Retired St. Louis Family Court Commissioner Anne-Marie Clarke carved out a career of firsts: first African American member of The Missouri Bar Board of Governors, first African American woman to serve on the city Board of Police Commissioners, and first female president of the commission, to name but a few.
But though her career was marked by breaking barriers, Clarke also continued the legal legacy of her father, Thomas P. Clarke — a veteran of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri — as well as African American legal luminaries and family friends such as the late state and federal appellate Judge Theodore McMillian and St. Louis civil-rights leader Frankie Muse Freeman.
Her father’s work in juvenile and family court eventually propelled Clarke in that direction. After graduating from Saint Louis University School of Law, she first worked in housing and redevelopment law, corporate law, private practice and as a staff attorney for Bi-State Development.
“I certainly never planned, thought or expected I would be there for 33 years,” said Clarke, who spent 12 years as the family court’s hearing officer before her 1998 appointment as commissioner, a role she held for more than two decades before stepping down in March.
“I had to deal with lots of things that were never in any law school book, but it grew into a role that I cherished.”
The rewards of working in such a demanding, if not gut-wrenching, environment can be difficult for outsiders — lawyers included — to gauge, acknowledged Clarke, a graduate of Rosati-Kain High School and Northwest Missouri State University who knew by age 9 that she’d be a lawyer.
“It is work that is not particularly valued,” she said, describing how others’ “eyes glaze over when you talk about ‘juvie’ work. It’s not seen in the same limelight and glow.”
Yet the impact, at its best, can be life-changing.
“I have connections with people I don’t even know I have connections with,” she said, describing encounters with “people who come up and remember me 20 years later after an adoption.
“For some, that fleeting time they had before me plays an outsize role in their lives. I’ve never taken lightly the responsibility that was placed before me in that moment.
“The types of relationships that you establish — that happens in none of the other courts,” she said. “It’s impossible to really describe unless you experience it.”
Early in her career, Clarke served as president of the Mound City Bar Association. That leadership role led her to research and write about the history of similar associations for black lawyers in the early- and mid-20th century. More recently, she chaired the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council Division.
Clarke has received widespread recognition for her career as a trailblazer, including a Judicial Excellence Award from the Missouri Supreme Court, a “Legal Legend” honor from the Mound City Bar Association, a Women’s Justice Award from Missouri Lawyers Media and the Ina M. Boon Social Justice Award from the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP.
In January, she was inducted into the Order of the Fleur de Lis Hall of Fame, the highest honor awarded to SLU Law alumni.
In retirement, Clarke plans to travel, volunteer, spend more time with her extended family and continue to mentor young attorneys.