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Anne-Marie Clarke converses with a guest at Northwest’s annual Martin Luther King Day Peace Brunch last January. Clarke retired last year after a 33-year career with the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of St. Louis. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Anne-Marie Clarke converses with a guest at Northwest’s annual Martin Luther King Day Peace Brunch last January. Clarke retired last year after a 33-year career with the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of St. Louis. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Jan. 5, 2021

Raising the bar: Successful legal career fulfills Clarke


Northwest Missouri State University alumna Anne-Marie Clarke knew at age 9 that she wanted to be a lawyer – like her father – and has spent a lifetime fighting for justice for children, families and marginalized people.

“I don’t know that I fully appreciated what a lawyer was, but I did understand that he helped people and that people thought he was pretty important,” she said.

Clarke returned to Northwest last January to give the keynote address at the University’s ninth annual Martin Luther King Day Peace Brunch. It was her first time returning to the campus since her graduation from the University.

She was a Northwest student for only two years, but that was part of her life plan, she says. “As I have throughout my life, I made plans and goals for myself.”

She earned an associate degree after two years of community college in St. Louis and then accepted a friend’s suggestion to attend Northwest, even though she’d never heard of or visited the campus.

“My parents drove me across state and then to the far northwest corner of Missouri, moved me into Franken Hall and left,” she said. “I promptly put up my ‘I’m Black and I’m proud’ sticker on my side of the dorm room. When my white roommate came in a little bit later after I had moved in, she was taken aback by my room decorations, but we did become good friends during our year together.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree in political science at Northwest in 1970, Clarke went on to Saint Louis University’s School of Law, where she earned her juris doctorate degree in 1973.

Although she only spent two years at Northwest, Clarke says the education she received in Maryville helped her reach her ultimate goal of advancing to law school and eventually a legal career.

“I was successful at Northwest Missouri State because of the support I received from the professors and the administration, which knew of my goal,” she said. “Had I failed, that was my failure. It’s important that we understand what can get us to our next step. It’s only you. If you have no goal, no plan, all the hope in the world does you no good.”

Beginning with her appointment in 1986 as a hearing officer of the family court, Clarke served the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of St. Louis for 33 years, including as commissioner from 1998 until her 2019 retirement, making her one of the longest-serving judicial officers on the city bench.

She was assigned to both the Juvenile Division, where she presided over cases involving children in foster care for more 30 years, and the Domestic Relations Division, where she instituted the Pro Se Dissolution Docket for individuals who were proceeding without legal representation in divorce cases.

“My dockets consisted of children and family who were often with little hope and little vision for their future,” Clarke said. “It was my job to encourage children who saw little ahead of themselves to see that making goals would be beneficial. It was my job to get parents to focus on what could be ahead for them and to see that getting there was a good thing.”

In addition to her work as a judge, she was the first Black member of the Board of Governors for The Missouri Bar in 1986 and was appointed in 1993 by then-Gov. Mel Carnahan as a member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, making her the first Black woman to serve on that board. She went on to serve four years as the first female president of the five-member Board of Police Commissioners.

Clarke was sworn in Aug. 1, 2017, for a one-year term as the 47th chair of the Judicial Council Division of the National Bar Association. As chair, she led a delegation of nearly 200 judges, lawyers, friends and family members to the Dominican Republic for a service project working with children from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Missouri Supreme Court Judicial Excellence Award, and she was named a Legal Legend by the Mound City Bar Association. In 2019, she was inducted into the St. Louis University School of Law Order of the Fleur de Lis Hall of Fame, the highest honor bestowed upon law school alumni.

“I was blessed that I had a job that I loved,” Clarke said. “There was never a day or a time when I didn’t want to go to work. And it was never work, it was an opportunity for me to be of service to my community. I served through my work at the court, through my public service, through my community service. I served and I did so gladly.”

Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704