Act II: Retired Glenview attorney writes true crime tome, produces play, co-owns magic lounge
Three decades as a trial attorney earned Glenview's Don Clark victories and honors.
His second act is just as enthralling.
A longtime Indian Ridge resident, Clark, 66, released his first book, "Summary Judgment, A Lawyer's Memoir," this month.
The play he produced, "When Harry Met Rehab," starts previews Nov. 23 at Chicago's Greenhouse Theater.
In the first week of August, a Chicago venue he co-owns, the Chicago Magic Lounge, reopened for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic blew up in March 2020.
"When I retired as an attorney, I promised myself that I was going to give myself one year in which I would not initiate anything as my next project, but I was going to wait and see if my next thing found me instead of me finding it," Clark said.
"Summary Judgment," which has drawn a positive testimonial from "Dead Man Walking" author Sr. Helen Prejean, is a true crime story about a convicted murderer in Alabama who has one final appeal to escape death row.
"Even if he is not truly innocent," the description noted.
The intrigue begins.
A Rutgers Law School Distinguished Alumni, Clark worked for the Chicago law firm of Isham, Lincoln & Beale in 1988 when he volunteered for, and was appointed by, the American Bar Association to work on the appeal of Tommy Hamilton. At 20, Hamilton had shot his boss and was convicted of murder.
Unwilling to spend the rest of his life behind bars, Hamilton appealed first to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and then to the Alabama Supreme Court, unsuccessfully. Clark, along with law partner Luke DeGrand and Sr. Lynn McKenzie, mounted one final attempt to get Hamilton off death row.
Once Clark examined the case -- which eventually involved former Alabama and United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the first female chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Sue Bell Cobb -- he and his team discovered perjury, negligence and a "trade of leniency."
Clark's account of events is too compelling to leak spoilers. One thing that fascinated him was its legal implications.
Yes, Hamilton was guilty of the crime, but while researching the case Clark discovered the full truth had not been heard in court.
"It's an interesting story that I believe has an important message, and that message, in part, is the conviction of innocent people is not the only possible flaw in a criminal justice system," said Clark, who earned Crain's Cleveland Business' Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as general counsel for the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ. He's also a life trustee with the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Clark acknowledged the hot topic of wrongful convictions, but "factual innocence should not become the sole or predominant basis for determining that a wrongful conviction has occurred," he said.
"We shouldn't ignore other types of injustice. Constitutional requirements are something that we should seek and insure are followed in every case, whether a defendant is factually guilty or not. Otherwise, it threatens the liberty of all of us. Insuring that criminal proceedings are free of constitutional defect is as much a criminal defense attorney's job as arguing about actual guilt or innocence," Clark said.
Among his promotional appearances for "Summary Judgment" is a virtual lecture at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 hosted by the Wilmette Public Library, 1242 Wilmette Ave.
The book can be purchased online and at the Book Bin, 1151 Church St., Northbrook, Clark said.
Always interested in theater, Clark made inroads there as a modest investor of "The Encounter," which ran on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre from September 2016 to January 2017. That led to introductions with other producers, and an executive producer position in the 2019 Jeff Daniels film "Guest Artist."
Clark's next production, "When Harry Met Rehab," is a semiautobiographical play co-written by comedian-turned-radio personality Harry Teinowitz at Lincoln Park's Greenhouse Theater Center, with tickets on sale in October. The casting call for the lead role described "an expert at dodging responsibility and hard truths."
"We consider the play to be seriously funny," Clark said. "Yes, it's an entertainment, but it's an important message as well."
As if he's not busy enough, Clark also is co-owner, with Joey Cranford, of the Chicago Magic Lounge in Andersonville. It's dedicated to the Chicago tradition of "close-up" magic performed in a restaurant or bar.
The 72,000-square-foot Art Deco space, which broke ground in June 2017, features a 1930s-style performance bar, a 110-seat cabaret theater and a close-up gallery, with food, drink and performances nightly.
Clark said he's always gotten a kick out of magic. In a roundabout way, the club helped provide the inspiration to write "Summary Judgment."
"I wanted my grandchildren to know something about their grandfather other than he was the co-owner of the Chicago Magic Lounge," he said.