Irene Clark

Former Pittsburgh Municipal Judge Irene Clark’s (nee McLaughlin) law school motto, “Law in the service of human needs,” connected at her core and set Irene on a career focused in public interest law. After earning a B.S. degree in economics from the highly regarded University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 1984, Irene returned to the New York neighborhood where she grew up and enrolled in the newly founded CUNY School of Law at Queens College, which is, according to the New York Times, “a school that trains the public’s lawyers.”

Irene, one of five daughters, was born in the New York City Borough of Queens to a second generation immigrant family of Irish heritage. Before enrolling at Wharton, Irene attended community college on Long Island, and for two years, got her first taste of advocacy working with the New York Public Interest Research Group, playing a role in passing New York’s bottle bill, one of the first successful grassroots environmental initiatives in the nation. While studying at Wharton, she worked with the Community Resource Center of Philadelphia doing investigative research on blight in Kensington and South Philadelphia neighborhoods. She participated in a project in North Philadelphia exploring ways to minimize the negative effects designating a historic district in a section of Center City would have on homeowners. Her work in community revitalization led her to a position with the Philadelphia Rehabilitation Plan, Inc., which provided home repair assistance to Philadelphia homeowners.

Between graduation and law school, she continued her advocacy work with the Pennsylvania Public Interest Coalition and later traveled west to work in California for the Campaign for Economic Democracy. While in law school at CUNY, Irene worked with the Health in the Workplace Clinic, a dedicated workers’ compensation clinic, and also counseled clinic clients involved in landlord-tenant disputes. She spent her law school summers interning with Neighborhood Legal Services in Pittsburgh as well as the Steel Valley Authority, Inc. and the Tri-State Conference on Steel which were part of a Western Pennsylvania coalition attempting to save jobs by taking over plants that companies planned to abandon.

After law school in 1988, Irene moved to Pittsburgh and worked for a family practice law firm before landing a job with City Councilmember Jim Ferlo, a position more in line with her background in community development. Her work there, particularly on housing and blight issues, caught the eye of Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff, who appointed Irene to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court. For the next decade, Judge Irene Clark adjudicated thousands of cases. Her extensive background in housing and neighborhood revitalization led to her to being designated Housing Court Judge responsible for code enforcement cases. In 2002, recognizing her accomplishments in holding accountable irresponsible property owners in blighted neighborhoods, Judge Clark was honored to be a YWCA Racial Justice Award recipient. As a judge, she volunteered with the Pittsburgh Mediation Center coordinating the Minor Courts of Allegheny County Mediation Referral Project, an initiative designed to get cases into mediation and out of the court system. In 1999, she earned a Masters of Arts Degree in Conflict Resolution from Antioch University.

After her judicial tenure, Irene’s work included an affiliation with Regional Housing Legal Services where she was instrumental in the launch of the Home Ownership Preservation Project, a program which helped homeowners resolve delinquent tax issues. For five years, she ran a pro bono clinic at NeighborWorks® Western Pennsylvania assisting lower income homeowners with “tangled title” issues. And she served a leading role with a University of Pittsburgh School of Law clinic providing blight reduction legal services to reclaim long-abandoned and blighted real estate, prompting a senior legislative leader to give her the informal title of “Blight Buster”.

Since leaving the bench in 2003, Judge Clark’s legal career has centered on helping municipalities and organizations clean up and revitalize blighted and abandoned properties. She has become a leading authority in the field, as an attorney, representing clients in blight revitalization efforts and as an advocate, counseling state and local organizations on reforming laws and policies related to blight.

Irene currently resides in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood with her husband, Jessie Clark, Jr.