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February 20, 2012

This post isn’t funny. It isn’t even much about baseball. But it’s on my mind.

Southern California lost a luminary this weekend with the death of Katherine Darmer, a professor at Chapman University Law School who possessed one of the sharpest progressive legal minds I’ve had the pleasure to observe in action. Katherine spent her career arguing the right side of every issue—she especially distinguished herself as an advocate for LGBT equality and an opponent of state-sponsored torture—with eloquence and amplification. More than once, I heard her underscore a position by emphasizing that what she opposed was not just illegal, but wrong, and that what she supported was not just legal, but right.

That these layers weren’t merely academic to her was apparent by the ways in which she put her convictions into action: Katherine could be counted on to speak at practically every forum and every local rally (the celebratory ones and the mournful vigils) throughout the meandering saga of Proposition 8, and she became a founding board member and resident legal consultant for the Orange County Equality Coalition in the wake of the 2008 election. She wrote op-eds for the local papers, knowing precisely how badly the commenters and letter-writers would batter her for her liberal opinions. She earned rave reviews from her students, and published (among other articles) an essay on the importance of considering students’ backgrounds, and their differing experiences with law enforcement, in the teaching of criminal law. In all her efforts, she had a masterful capacity to blend emotion with information, to arm her fellow activists with legal understanding so that they—we—might more compellingly make our cases and choose our battles.

I didn’t know Katherine well, not at all, but I felt fairly confident that I knew who she was: a woman driven by a deep and insatiable hunger for justice, characterized by brilliance without ostentation, charisma without flash, and activism without sanctimony.

What I know now, too, is this: On Friday morning, Katherine Darmer, age 47, seems to have climbed to the top of the parking garage of an Orange County office building and jumped to her death.

So it turns out that I don’t know much of anything. Nobody does, and we’re unsettled in the extreme by the reminder that achievement and fortitude can coexist in the same mind with crippling doubt and depression. But in my obsessive, impotent post-tragedy web-searching, I did turn up one more point of commonality between Katherine and me (and, okay, every other baseball fan in the world who doesn’t wear pinstriped blinders): We think Roger Clemens is a big liar. Check out this article from February 2008:

Katherine Darmer, a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York and an expert on criminal procedure, said that Clemens did not come across as credible and that it would not be surprising to see the former big league hurler experience more legal troubles in days to come.

“I thought Roger Clemens did not come across well,” said Darmer, a professor of law at Chapman (Calif.) University. “Coming at it from pretty much an open mind, I just thought he was not credible. He’s obviously got a lot to lose with his denials, but if I were his lawyer or his family, I’d be worried about perjury charges.”

…..”He’s got star power, and I think he was hoping he could use that and leverage that,” Darmer said. “He’s a national hero and a lot of people love the guy. As a federal prosecutor looking at these guys, I think Clemens is in trouble.”

As usual, she was right.

Farewell all too soon, Katherine, and thanks for everything.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 4:37 pm

    That is so unbelievably tragic. This post is a beautiful tribute – I had never heard of Katherine Darmer until I read it, and now I wish I had known more. May she rest in peace.

  2. Kurt Eggert permalink
    February 21, 2012 1:06 am

    What a beautiful blog posting, about a truly amazing woman. I worked with Katherine, both at Chapman Law School and on the Prop. 8 brief on marriage equality, and she was a wonder of nature. A fierce defender of human rights, a staunch advocate of equality for gays and lesbians. What an amazing woman. We do not know what led to her death, but we should honor the great work that she did. We were lucky to have her with us when we did.

  3. February 23, 2012 5:03 pm

    So sad that she took her own life. I had never heard of her before, and you have given a very heartfelt and eloquent portrait of her life.

    Now, as far as your “pinstriped blinders” quip, I am a diehard Yanks fan, and I think Clemens is a grotesque fucken liar.

  4. Rob Baird, St Louis Mo permalink
    February 26, 2012 10:36 pm

    Thank you for this. She was my sister.

    • February 26, 2012 10:42 pm

      I met you at the service, Rob (I was the St. Louisan who said hello on the patio). Your sister was marvelous—and it turns out that one of her childhood friends (perhaps yours as well) was my cousin Gretchen, with whom I’m now in touch for the first time since we were tiny. Katherine’s still connecting people even after her death. How about that.

      Ongoing condolences to you and your family.

      • Rob Baird, St Louis Mo permalink
        February 26, 2012 11:03 pm

        Wow. I knew Gretchen well. And I think her brother (Mark maybe?) is about my age.

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