Prosecutor lost O.J. trial but won big career as writer, legal expert

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

A warning from Marcia Clark, the closing keynote speaker at Litquake Palo Alto: Please don’t ask about the O.J. trial.

Marcia Clark

However, since the 1994 murder case is Clark’s chief claim to fame as the lead prosecutor, and helped launch her career as a legal expert on TV and as an author, the subject will undoubtedly come up.

“I always hope to not have a lot of [O.J.] Simpson questions,” she says. “You’re not going to hear me say anything new, because there’s nothing new to say … We know the end of the story …”

When the jury returned a not guilty verdict for the celebrity football player, “Justice, in my opinion, was not served,” Clark says.

The former prosecutor with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office became an object of obsessive media scrutiny 20 years ago. But the 60-year-old has since reinvented her career several times over, so she’ll have plenty to talk about when she stars as the headliner for the program that closes Palo Alto Litquake at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17.

Crime novelist Michelle Gagnon, author of novels for adults and teens, will interview Clark about her life and work.

Clark has featured as a legal expert on MSNBC, CNN, CNBC and numerous talk shows. She’s been a lecturer on domestic violence and other issues throughout North America, a television writer and producer, correspondent for “Entertainment Tonight,” and the author of the bestselling series of novels about Rachel Knight — the smart, driven prosecutor to whom Clark gave “all my flaws.” Knight, like her creator, is “impulsive, she gets in trouble, she bucks authority.”

Beginning with “Guilt by Association,” published in 2011, Clark has developed Knight’s L.A. milieu informed with the insider’s knowledge she gained over 14 years as a deputy district attorney. “Guilt by Degrees” and “Killer Ambition” followed, and Clark’s 2014 book, “The Competition,” has the character working on a high school shooting in the San Fernando Valley. The case has deliberate echoes of Columbine; Clark became fascinated by the subject after reading a recent article that took a fresh look at the crime and the perpetrators.

Clark, who grew up in a Jewish family, spent her early years in Berkeley, then elsewhere in the Bay Area and around the country as her father, employed by the federal Food and Drug Administration, moved them from place to place. “That was tough,” she says. “I have to say, it does make you very adaptable.” Judaism “wasn’t a big force in my life,” Clark says. She wound up moving so often that connecting with a Jewish community never came into the picture.

Asked whether her life experiences have contributed to her seemingly unstoppable series of accomplishments, Clark responds, “I always just follow what my passion is, what I love to do.”

She certainly is not a quitter. “You can’t expect things to come easily, you have to keep at it, find a way to make it happen.” And Clark says she passed that message on to her children.

Her two sons, now 22 and 24 and living in the Bay Area, figured in the very public custody battle she was engaged in during a painful divorce, all of it played out against the background of the Simpson trial.

In 1997, she published “Without a Doubt,” her summing up of the case, the key players, and her own nonstop work as the “Trial of the Century” engulfed her personal life. Her brash, ballsy style in that book, in which she spared no one — not even herself — from criticism, is present in her conversation as well.

The atmosphere surrounding the Simpson trial “was insane, and a terrible kind of thing to have happen, but what can you do?,” she says. “When you’re in the middle of it, running home and trying to take care of the children, it’s extremely stressful.”

Today, Clark has “a wonderful relationship with my kids.” One is a graduate student in economics at the University of San Francisco, the other is finishing his last year at San Francisco State University.

Despite her lack of affiliation, Clark does embrace Jewish values. The proud mother is also passionate about delivering justice and representing the interests of victims. She started out as a criminal defense attorney who “never thought I’d work for ‘The Man.’ ” But defending too many people charged with violent crimes made Clark realize she wanted to try the other side of the law. Defending people accused of violent crimes is “a very important job, just not a job that I wanted to do.”

As a prosecutor, her conviction of the murderer of actress Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989 led to laws that increased punishment for felony stalking and better protected the victims. Over the years, Clark handled thousands of cases. “I really felt very responsible to the victims’ families, to bring justice for them,” she says. “I’m their voice in the courtroom, and that really weighed very heavily.” But Clark has no plans to re-enter that world.

Life in Southern California is good — and very busy. In addition to writing novels, Clark assists in sorting through appeals cases, and just finished working with TNT to develop a pilot for a legal drama.

“It’s nice to be able to have a change of careers,” she says. “It keeps it interesting.”

Marcia Clark will speak from 7-8 p.m. at Litquake Palo Alto, Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $15, includes copy of “Guilt by Association.” Advance registration at


Read, shmooze with authors at Palo Alto literary festival

Litquake Palo Alto, a thriving offshoot of San Francisco’s popular literary festival, returns Sunday, Aug. 17 to the Oshman Family JCC.

The third annual event — celebrating books, authors and ideas — will bring 43 writers to the JCC for literary salons, fireside readings and workshops. The event takes place from 2 to 8 p.m.

Attendees can choose from 10 salons, such as “Breakthrough Novelists,” “Aging with Humor” with Annabelle Gurwitch, Russian authors, LGBT stories and “Suffering and Success in Silicon Valley.” Fireside readings will feature Edan Lepucki, author of the newly released sci-fi novel “California,” Bay Area attorney Joshua Safran (“Free Spirit,” a memoir), Jason Friedman (“Fire Year,” LGBT fiction), and Ellen Sussman, whose latest novel is “A Wedding in Provence.” Workshops will offer pointers on writing oral histories, blogging and the craft of writing.

The closing event is a talk by Marcia Clark, former prosecutor in the O. J. Simpson case, and writer of the bestselling Rachel Knight crime novels.

New this year for the younger set: Litquake Kids, from 2 to 5 p.m., with programs and activities for preschoolers, young students and teens, including a Teen Poetry Slam.

Returning this year: the popular “Blues, Booze and Schmooze,” for ages 21 and up. “This is a great opportunity to chat with the authors in a relaxed social setting,” said JCC Arts and Culture director Ronit Widmann-Levy. “It’s one of the most popular parts of our festival each year.”

Litquake Palo Alto, 2-8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Free. $15 for Marcia Clark talk.