High Plains Lawyer
Clark Brewster isn’t afraid to kick up some dust for his clients
Published in 2007 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine
on November 9, 2007
Updated on March 3, 2016
It’s easy to see the country boy in Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster. He’s a compact, solidly built man, 50 years old, with reddish-blond hair and prominent features that crease often and effortlessly into a charming smile.
He grew up on a dairy farm in rural Michigan, where life was strictly regulated by the demands of a family-owned operation. “There was no time off,” he remembers. “Every day of the year, 365 days a year, the cows had to be milked. Hard work was a necessity, not an option.”
Although he knew by age 16 that he didn’t want to be a dairy farmer, he has carried many of the attitudes formed by that experience into adult life.
He and his wife own and operate a 3,500-acre horse ranch outside Tulsa, where they raise and train cutting horses, race horses and show horses; the ranch features an equine and livestock exhibition arena. Two or three days a week, Brewster goes to the ranch, puts on his cowboy clothes, swings into the saddle and helps out.
“The peace and privacy of being out in the country is deeply ingrained in both my wife and me,” he says. “My dad died in 1996. My mom still lives on the Michigan farm. Growing up on a farm taught me a sense of responsibility. When animals rely on you, it’s not an option on your part to disappoint them.”
Brewster was the first person in his family to attend college; his parents had only an eighth-grade education. “We lived in the country about 10 miles away from the nearest town,” he says. “The county seat, Sandusky, Michigan, had a prominent local lawyer who my father viewed as a deeply humane person and a champion of the working man. The man’s name was Leonard Patterson, and he practiced law until he was 91 years old.”
His father’s respect for Patterson—and Brewster’s respect for his father’s opinion—inspired Brewster to become a lawyer, and in 1980 he graduated with highest honors from the College of Law at the University of Tulsa.
Brewster married his high school sweetheart, Deborah Trowhill, when he was 17 and she was 18. Thirty-three years later, they are the parents of three: Cassie Barkett, a lawyer in Tulsa; Corbin, a third-year law student at Washington University in St. Louis; and Cade, age 15.
In 1982, he founded his practice as a sole practitioner. Today, Brewster & De Angelis specializes in complex civil litigation and select criminal defense. It employs seven full-time lawyers, a full-time nurse and three paralegals.
The firm may be small, but its impact has been considerable. The cases it represents are frequently high-profile and subject to intense media scrutiny.
“Catastrophic and wrongful-death cases have been our central focus,” Brewster says. “We don’t practice corporate law. All of our clients are people. We represent people, not things. I prefer taking cases where I personally can make a difference.
“I have to like the people I represent. That’s what motivates me. Whether it’s criminal defense or civil litigation, we try and develop a solid communication between us and our clients. They become like family. The practice can be so rewarding in so many different ways. It makes you feel good about being a lawyer.”
One of Brewster’s mentors was legendary lawyer Bernard G. Segal. Brewster and Segal were counsel together on high-profile criminal cases in Oklahoma and California. “He is renowned for his consummate preparation and unremitting drive for perfection,” Brewster says. “He taught me more by example than any other lawyer.”
Brewster’s features crinkle thoughtfully as he ponders what it takes to be a good trial lawyer.
“First off,” he says, “you’ve got to be yourself. You can’t emulate someone else. You must be able to authentically represent your client’s point of view. You must resonate that point of view and convince others—the judge, the jury—that it is real.
“A good trial lawyer must be able to process disparate facts and arrange them in a coherent format, which he then communicates to the people who count.”
Daniel Boudreau, a trial and appellate judge for 25 years—including five years on the Oklahoma Supreme Court—and now with a private mediation practice in Tulsa, says, “Brewster is one of the finest trial lawyers I have ever observed. His greatest gift is the tremendous empathy and understanding he displays for his clients, which shines through every facet of his representation of them.”
It ain’t as easy as it looks.
“Remember, in a trial setting, I only get to talk part of the time,” Brewster says. “As I’m stating my argument, I’m getting interrupted by the judge and the opposing counsel. No matter how fluid and easy it seems, somebody out there is trying to throw me off my rhythm. No matter how carefully I’ve mapped out my presentation, it’s subject to instant modification. The process is akin to a football game where the game plan can change at the opening snap.
“You’ve got to be quick on your feet. You’ve got to be able to turn on a dime. I don’t know who said it, but I understand it completely: ‘The person who remains calm when all those around him are losing control is in control.’
“I was fortunate in the experiences I had as a young lawyer. Early in my career, I had the opportunity to handle the more high-profile and dramatic cases. Those experiences enabled me to become more confident and relaxed.”
During the past 20 years, on the civil litigation side alone, Brewster has won multiple jury verdicts for his clients amounting to millions of dollars in medical malpractice, personal injury, wrongful-death, insurance bad faith and products liability cases.
On the criminal docket, he has successfully defended such high-profile cases as the State of Oklahoma v. Barbara Lynn Bell. In 1993, Bell, a Tulsa socialite and the wife of a prominent hand surgeon, was charged with shooting her husband in the face at point-blank range with a 9-mm pistol.
Bell was tried, convicted for second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Two years later, the State Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial after it found that the trial judge had given a “presumed guilty” instruction to jurors.
Brewster was retained to defend her at the second trial. On the Saturday before the retrial, the state offered a plea bargain. Bell pleaded to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced by the judge to an 18-year prison term, giving her credit for four and a half years of time already served. The judge then ordered the remainder of the sentence, 13 1/2 years, to be served as unsupervised probation.
In State of Oklahoma v. James Hogue, an Oklahoma district judge was charged with 32 counts of elderly caretaker abuse and embezzling from a widow’s estate.
So completely did the event capture the attention of the public that over the 16 months of the case, the Tulsa World published more than 50 front-page articles.
Hogue resigned his judgeship but maintained that his wife was solely to blame for the embezzlement. With Brewster’s help, Hogue was acquitted of all charges in 1998. His wife was sentenced to 10 years.
Another highly publicized case, U.S. v. Carol Howe, involved an undercover informant for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reporting on members of a white supremacy organization who were allegedly plotting to blow up federal buildings in the Midwest. Howe was indicted by the federal government and accused of the very crime she was supposed to investigate. She was acquitted in 1997 in a jury trial in front of a packed courtroom.
Don Bigham, an attorney for the Tulsa firm Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis, sums up his sometime opponent, sometime co-counsel: “Nobody I know has Brewster’s sheer ability to persuade in a courtroom. He has that all-important knack for persuading others of the rightness of his cause, which is what it’s all about. I marvel at him.”
Brewster lectures on what it takes to be a good trial lawyer in seminars and workshops both at Tulsa University Law School and at other venues around the country.
“Gut feeling, intuition, whatever you call it, isn’t going to work unless you have the confidence to back it up,” he says. “If you make a bad call, you need to have a fallback position to put in its place. I’ve made a few wrong calls … there’s not a lawyer in the world who hasn’t.”
He leans back in his chair.
“I think one of the greatest things about being a lawyer is knowing that you are carrying the burden of your client’s hopes and wishes,” he says. “Your presence can really make a difference. No matter how old you are, if you still have your license, you can walk into a courthouse and everyone there has to listen to what you have to say.
“My greatest ambition, the thing that drives me, is never to let anyone down.”