Michael Emmick – A model for a generation of lawyers

The first thing I noticed about Mike Emmick was how affable and unassuming he was. Lawyers can sound stiff and, well… lawyerly. Mike was none of that.

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He was one of several former prosecutors who worked under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr from September 1997 to January 2000. We exchanged emails several times before finally connecting by phone regarding his experience during the tumultuous Whitewater investigation.

Mike had read some of my commentaries, appreciated the thoroughness of my research, and was willing to answer my questions about his experience. What I did not know, until many months later, was that he was suffering from a brain tumor. When he finally confided that this was the reason he kept postponing a much longer conversation, I told him, “Hey, you’ve got enough on your plate.” I promised to check back with him after the surgery that was planned for the following week.

He was very upbeat at the end of that brief chat, “Jim, let’s talk a week after my surgery.”

I never spoke with him again. I kept sending emails for many weeks until the messages were automatically returned as undeliverable. For several months, I kept calling, leaving messages, searching for news stories until I came across this notice in an obscure legal journal:

Michael Emmick 1953-2015

The former federal prosecutor, who gained national notoriety as part of Kenneth W. Starr’s team that investigated President Clinton, has died.

Those who knew Mike were admiring about what made him exceptional.

“He had this infectious laugh,” one friend said. “He lived life to the fullest, both professionally and personally.”

“He would organize these whitewater rafting trips,” a colleague said. “He had a bucket list a mile long. When he wasn’t working 12 hours a day, he was traveling, safaris, you name it.”

When it came to work, however, “Mike was a model for a generation of lawyers on how to conduct yourself. He was a role model by virtue of the kind of lawyer and person he was himself. In the office, he had a unique ability to raise issues that were contrary to what the majority was advocating, but he would do so in a friendly, non-confrontational manner. Mike had the unique ability to put forth well-reasoned arguments without disrespecting others.”

Michael Emmick graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, with a B.A. in political science and philosophy from U.C. Santa Barbara. In 1978, he graduated from UCLA Law School and worked at the firm Tuttle & Taylor before he accepted the position of assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles in 1982 where he became head of the public corruption unit before being tapped as an associate in Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s office in 1997.

While he survived brain surgery, a year ago, Mike died of a heart attack while walking along the beach in Los Angeles.

“He was joy to be around,” a close friend noted, “and everyone that knew him was better for having known him. Some days, in my best moments, I hope to be more like him.”

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