Judge Wallace Clark (1916-1990)

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.

Spokane Spokesman Review, September 16, 1967

Spokane Spokesman Review, September 16, 1967

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Spokane Spokesman Review, January 13, 1978

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Spokane Spokesman Review, January 16, 1967

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Evening Independent, May 28, 1977






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Spokane Spokesman Review, April 10, 1968

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Spokane Spokesman Review, May 17, 1979


Lakeland Ledger, June 9, 1980

Lakeland Ledger, June 9, 1980

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Spokane Spokesman Review, February 5, 1965

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Spokane Spokesman Review, March 8, 1966


Miami News, July 7, 1977

Miami News, July 7, 1977

7 thoughts on “Judge Wallace Clark (1916-1990)

  1. It was his son in law he shot. He was a dope head, and was at the house up the Rattlesnake threatening his daughter. Those were the days……Wally Jr. was a dope head too and Wally wanted to shoot him once in a while.

  2. A lot of people hated him. If he liked you he’d be way lenient and if he didn’t like you, you were screwed. He especially had it in for longhairs of any type. I knew him because I represented clients in his court. If they wanted to plead out, the best strategy was to get Don Louden, then the city attorney and very understanding of our plight, to agree to a continuance and then wait ’til Clark was out of town. On those days, there’d be a substitute judge and a flood of cases came in for sentencing. I always believed Don got his rep as “Let Em Loose Louden”, because he spent so many years witnessing how Wally Clark operated and wanted to be the opposite.

    • Your “long-hair” characterization doesn’t hold water from my personal experience with Judge Clark. But he did have an interesting take on responsibility and tolerance.

      • You may be right LoloB, about Wally and the longhairs, it was sometimes difficult to ascertain why he took a shine to some people and lowered the boom on others. But truth to tell, it was mostly pot possession cases that plead out in front of a substitute judge for fear of Wally, and most of those guys then were long-hairs, so maybe that’s the connection.

    • In the early 1980’s I was one of those substitute Judges. I was 5 years out of Law School and Wally remembered my deceased father, also an attorney and appointed me to act when he was away. I don’t particularly remember any abundance of cases. I do remember one shoplifter who stole a condum, who had enough money, but when I asked why he didn’t just pay for it said it was because it was too embarrassing to buy them! I pointed out that having to appear in court must be even more embarrassing!

  3. I ran a red light (I looked up and the turning lane arrow was green and I thought it was my light) in the early 80’s and t-boned a car out by bowling alley on west Broadway. The cop gave me the ticket because I had Cut Bank plates, even though the guy I hit had run a red also…I requested a Non Jury Trial and ended up in front of Wally defending myself. Wore my Silver Cowboy Hat and my Pendelton Jacket with my USMC Lapel pin. When the Clerk announced the first case, he said, “No, let’s take care of the sharp dressed young man in the second row first.” I got up and explained my situation. When he found out I was from Cut Bank, he told me he was from Shelby and asked whether I was sure I wanted to go through with the trial (High School Rivals)…I said Yes, your honor, and proceeded to explain the situatoin. I drew a diagram of the light sequence. I explained that my skid marks showed there was no excessive speed. The arresting officer was in the courtroom. Clark asked him if he looked at the light sequence…”No”…He asked him if he had measured my skid marks, another “No”. He then said to the Long Haired City Attorney and Cop, “Since the defendant had to do your job for you, I see no reason this fooolishness should continue wasting taxpayer money…Case Dismissed.”

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