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Kenneth Starr, erstwhile nemesis of Bill Clinton, is back in the limelight — this time in the unlikely role of a champion of convicted killers. Now the dean of Pepperdine University School of Law and of counsel at Kirkland & Ellis, Starr has represented two death row inmates in recent years. In 2005 he succeeded in getting then-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) to grant clemency to murderer Robin Lovitt, but last year Starr failed to persuade California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to spare the life of Michael Morales, who now sits on death row. American Lawyer magazine senior reporter Vivia Chen spoke with Starr about his new crusade. VC: Is this a new Ken Starr, or didn’t people know the old one? KS: My views haven’t changed. I’ve never believed in an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth. VC: Do you still believe in the death penalty? KS: I didn’t say I’m in favor of it. [But] I’ve not become an abolitionist. It’s reasonable for extreme cases — acts of terrorism or war crimes. VC: Did you meet personally with Morales and Lovitt on death row? KS: I met with [each of them] one week before [a scheduled] execution, and both were at peace and showed remarkable calm. VC: Did they know anything about your reputation? KS: They were not unaware of my background. VC: Were they intimidated? KS: Not in the slightest. We interacted on a human and professional level. VC: You’ve mentioned that both men underwent a spiritual awakening. Do you believe in redemption? KS: Absolutely. Michael Morales expressed remorse right after the offense. He’s led an exemplary life behind bars. Those things should be taken into account in considering clemency. VC: Unfortunately, your plea on behalf of Morales failed to move Gov. Schwarzenegger. KS: The last governor to grant clemency [for a capital offense] in California was Ronald Reagan. [These days] chief executives are unwilling to inquire about an individual’s life in considering clemency. Abraham Lincoln always took the time to review the cases of condemned prisoners; he had a magnanimity of spirit that should be an inspiration for every chief executive. In a civilized society, you have to temper justice with mercy. VC: You sound like a bleeding-heart liberal. What do your law and order colleagues think about your efforts to save murderers? KS: They understand it’s a matter of conscience. VC: Some say your death penalty work is just an attempt to reform your image. KS: Lincoln said, “Judge not, that we be not judged.” I try not to worry about what people say. VC: You were considered a contender for the U.S. Supreme Court at one point. Would you have been the justice with the surprise liberal streak? KS: I can’t answer that. I don’t think it’s profitable to project how one might rule. VC: You’ve been critical of the way lawyers latch onto cause-related litigation. Explain. KS: There needs to be recognition of the role of lawyers as problem solvers and community builders. I view it as a professional obligation to achieve early relief as civilly as possible. The adversary system is not attractive to a lot of people. VC: Isn’t that a bit ironic coming from the prosecutor who pursued Bill Clinton so relentlessly? KS: That’s a very large subject. I was very proud of our office and the men and women who worked on the matter. We conducted ourselves reasonably. VC: What do you want to be remembered for? KS: I don’t think about my legacy. My life rotates around students at Pepperdine. VC: Who gives you more grief these days — liberals or conservatives? KS: [Laughs.] I’m not aware of getting a whole lot of grief one way or another. People are busy and don’t have time to worry about what I do.

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