After an unsuccessful run for the post in 1965, and an unsuccessful bid for county surveyor in 1966, Wallace “Wally” Clark was elected police judge for the city of Missoula in 1967 on the Democratic ticket.
Born in Sweet Grass, Montana, Wallace Nichols Clark grew up the son of the sheriff of Toole County. Putting himself through college working as a customs official on the Canadian border, he graduated from the University of Montana in 1940. Clark entered the army in 1941, serving as an infantryman and in the medical corps in N. Africa, Sicily, Italy and South France. After the war he attended law school at UM and met and married Mary Beth Toney.
Clark graduated from law school in 1947, thereafter joining the Army Air Corps JAG office. He traveled the world in the service until 1963 when he retired. (Clark underwent cataract surgery around that time and subsequently, not trusting his vision, never drove again.) He and his wife then moved into her family home on West Pine near St. Patrick’s hospital. He practiced law for a few years, also working as a deputy Missoula county attorney before his 1965 run for police judge. He’d left the county attorney position by 1966. It is unclear if a petition for his removal filed in 1965 was the cause of his leaving.
Elected police judge in 1967, Clark was returned to office several times before winning the new and more powerful position of municipal judge in 1977. (After successfully lobbying the legislature for creation of the new office which combined and replaced the offices of police judge and city judge, he became the first municipal judge in the state). Clark ran for the Montana Supreme Court twice, in 1980 and 1982, losing to Justice John Sheehy in both races. Clark finally surrendered his judgeship after he was defeated by City Attorney Don Louden in the election of 1989. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988, he died in 1990.
Clark was known to lawyers and those who went before him as a cantankerous cowboy of a jurist who had eccentric ideas about punishment for offenders. Questioning people before him about their backgrounds, he often tailored sentences based on family ties or ethnic origins. (For example, if the offender was of Irish extraction, he’d throw him in the clink, because “an Irishman can’t stand to be deprived of his booze.” If the offender was Scottish, he fined him, “because those Scots can’t bear to part with a dime.”) In other cases, he might use creative sentencing to teach the offender a “needed lesson.”
Clark openly espoused his creative sentencing philosophy in court and dared lawyers to appeal, admonishing them that their client would sit in jail for years by the time the case got to the Supreme Court. He could also be very lenient and kind to sympathetic characters, especially the hard-up, whom he sometimes even treated to a meal at Hamburger Ace.
The following news stories written between 1965 and 1980 give a bit of the flavor of Judge Wally Clark.