A Farewell to Kenneth Starr, a Great Lawyer and a Decent Man

With the passing of Kenneth Starr this week, the legal profession lost one of its most enduring and impactful figures of the last century. As someone who was able to work with Starr in litigation, I can honestly say that Starr was one of the best lawyers that I have seen in court. He not only had a brilliant legal mind but brought a sense of extraordinary clarity and precision to the law. It was that penetrating intellect that repeatedly led to his being called upon to handle some of this nation’s most intractable and controversial matters. He was often repaid with partisan hostility by the media and Congress. However, he never stooped to the level of his critics. He remained one of the most modest, respectful, and kind individuals that I have ever known.

It is easy to rattle off the list of high-ranking appointments and high-profile cases that made Ken Starr such a historic legal figure. A federal judge, Solicitor General, Independent Counsel, litigator, and academic, Starr left a legacy that few could hope to match in our profession. However, Starr was more than the collection of his resume items. Much more.

While rarely discussed in the media, the life of Ken Starr embodied the very best of the American dream. It is the story of a boy who was the youngest of three children of a Texas barber. proudly calling himself a fifth generation Texan, Starr was born.  near the Red River and the Oklahoma border in the tiny town of Thalia with roughly 100 residents and not a single traffic light. The family had little money but made up for it with an abundance of faith.  His father served as the local minister and Ken Starr would sell Bibles door-to-door. He grew up as a typical kid going for hamburgers at Jay’s Drive-In and a movie with friends. While Starr would be declared the “most likely to succeed” at Sam Houston High School, few likely imagined that this soft-spoken class president would become a household name and one of the most important lawyers of his generation.

Starr, however, soon went down the dirt road near his home in search of a life of service different from his father. It would take him first to Harding University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Searcy, Arkansas and then to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where he would get his degree in history. He would then go to Duke Law School where he continued to excel as a student. He was given a prestigious appellate clerkship on the Fifth Circuit and then served as a Supreme Court clerk to Chief Justice Warren Burger. After working in a top law firm, he was made counselor to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith.

With each position, Starr stood out for his discipline and skills as a lawyer. President Ronald Reagan appointed Starr to the D.C. Circuit where he served with distinction until he resigned to become the United States Solicitor General under George H.W. Bush. He would argue dozens of cases and was considered one of the best litigators to hold that office.

When controversies arose, Congress and the courts always seemed to call upon Starr, who always answered that call to service. That was the case when the Senate needed to investigate Sen. Bob Packwood (R., Ore.) and it was again the case when Clinton aide Vince Foster committed suicide. In each investigation, Starr’s conclusions were not welcomed by some Republicans, including in his conclusion that Foster died by his own hand.

Then there was the Clinton scandal. Starr found himself at the center of a political hurricane as he pursued possible crimes committed by Bill Clinton. The two men had a similar background as kids born in small, poor towns in the South. Both rose to national fame due to their proven intellect and skills. However, that is where the comparisons ended. Clinton was a walking moral hazard who was notorious even as a state politician for serial adultery. Where Starr displayed a quiet but deep faith, Clinton regularly professed his faith while violating every precept of it.

Suddenly, Starr was made persona non grata by a press intent upon protecting Clinton. Even though democrats admitted that Clinton committed perjury in the Monica Lewinsky matter (and a federal judge affirmed that view), law professors like Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe insisted that perjury was not an impeachable offense. (I would testify at that same impeachment hearing on the other side). Clinton also committed acts that could have been charged as obstruction and witness tampering.

Faced with clear criminal conduct like perjury, the media instead attacked the man who helped bring that conduct to light. Major media and Democratic figures vilified Starr in grotesquely unfair hit pieces on a weekly basis.

Despite the unrelenting personal attacks, Starr remained professional and respectful through this nightmare. Starr remained firmly tethered to core principles. He once said that “Truth is a bedrock concept in morality and law.” It was his North Star and guided everything that he did; everything that he believed.

Starr loved being a lawyer. He found a profession that valued his penchant for precision and persuasion. In later years, Starr would continue to take on major cases like his roles in the Jeffrey Epstein case and in the first Trump impeachment. I did not always agree with his clients or causes but he remained one of the top litigators in the country who fought zealously for his clients. He also quietly continued his life of service in other ways, including representing indigent death row inmates. After Starr was stripped of his presidency at Baylor University after a sexual abuse scandal on the football team, he resigned his position as Chancellor and academic position. He insisted that he was not aware of the scandal until it became public. However, he declared that the university needed a clean break and “the captain goes down with the ship.” He walked away and again refused to exchange barbs in the media with critics who superficially played up the controversy as Starr’s “own sex scandal.”

Indeed, during the Clinton scandal and for the decades that followed, I never heard Starr utter a profane or mean-spirited thought. Despite years of grossly unfair treatment in the media, Starr retained his signature calm and civility.

Starr refused to allow the hate and the harassment to corrupt him or his view of others. He came too far from that dirt road in Thalia to lose his way in Washington. To the end, he was a man of faith. Not just in the religious sense, but a faith in the legal system and the transcendent power of truth.  Ken Starr was not just a great lawyer; he was an even greater rarity in Washington, he was a decent man.

This column ran in the Fox.com.

51 thoughts on “A Farewell to Kenneth Starr, a Great Lawyer and a Decent Man”

  1. Thank you for sharing this portrait of Kenneth Starr. I never knew his story or strength of character.

    May he be an inspiration for us to do better.

    1. Or for Turley to do better. ….turley know Clinton declassified area 51….Yet Turkey who had clients from there is less than zealous! Even after declassification. Turkey ought to be better and not be a general James comer! Turkey knows or ought to know the pheonx lights were a mere jsoc exercise. ….But he gas lights the American people…..to make them doubt god. Which actually violates the first amendment….regarding an “establishment” of religion…..day after day the govt hides info and leads ppl to think there are aliens…..just to undermine their religions. The first amendment prohibits the Fed govt from establishing a religion…the corollary of that….is the Fed govt can’t run around casting doubt on religion….by their known exercises and operation. It’s bad enough rangers are drugged…for ops….But do we really have the case……the U.S. Govt is….causing people to doubt their god….because jsoc does exercises over phenoix? The govt can’t …establish a religion….But they seem he’ll bent on it anyway. B Y letting the Phoenix lights be called…..et….when the govt knows it was their “exercise. “…this killing of faith by the govt can not stand!

      1. Ask and have answered…..the scope of the 25 year-old exercise from groom lake. No lo get classified. The only thing classified about it….is how the army drugs ppl……in danger ranger et al! …how they use people!… Very badly. Very un-american. They don’t even know the drugs they are taking……these drugs…..they are kept isolated and drugged…like robotots. On the notion…they will never remember! I will not stand for that. Sincerely major patton..resigned!

        1. But let’s keep up appearances….every one read the Arizona vs us case. …567 st al..2012…..and don’t forget the slain scalia’s opinion…he lives…hmm that I e….he lives….hmm it! Hmm he lives.

  2. Professor,
    Your column is such a thoughtful one, and will be deeply appreciated by his family.
    He was an exceptional, kind man………like you, Professor.

    1. He was. I knew that though I never knew him like some of you. Discernment is hardly mentioned any more as a valid means to summarize the character of people, but I knew instantly Clinton was a total moral disgrace and that Ken was a true gentleman, a brave, principled man focused on finding the facts no matter the personal cost.

      I am unable to understand how anyone can look at Bill Clinton without becoming certain in just seconds what a filthy, disgusting, lying, serial sexual assaulter he is.

      Look what he did to 800,000 Rwandans. My God! He is responsible for their deaths.

  3. JT’s column and post was a nice and interesting tribute to Starr, but I felt he made a couple of unnecessary digs at Bill Clinton and included an unnecessary mention and link to Larry Tribe.

  4. I always appreciared Starr’s genteel manner and calm disposition in the face of outrageous evil. A true gentleman. Wish I had the knack. I’m more in the Kid Rock camp (NSFW but damn good):

    1. mespo……well, at least the Kid incorporated the Lord’s Prayer in his song, so he’s alright.
      And btw, Mister, you are indeed a true gentleman in my book! (which is available on amazon 🙂 )

    2. Kid’s done us good even being out of Michigan.

      If anyone likes another Kangaroos, Railroads & Cartoons Infowars is back for a 4-5 week trail in Connecticut like a few weeks back in Austin where you get no jury or a trial, the Judges just Say Your Guilty, you & your lawyer can’t say Anything & the only question from the judge to the Jury is do you think the Plaintiffs attorneys are being under paid. LOL;) Really!

      Robert Barnes Calls Out Violation of Alex Jones’ Civil Rights in CT Case



      Sep 14, 2022
      The Alex Jones Show
      The Alex Jones Show

      Robert Barnes of https://vivabarneslaw.locals.com/ joins The Alex Jones Show to call out the blatant violation of Alex Jones’ civil rights in his recent CT hearing.


      1. Oky1……….Good to see you! Hope y’all are well. Before too long those Maple and SweetGum trees up there will be beautiful, colorful Fall foliage.

        1. Hi Cindy,

          Good to hear from you as well. I’ve wanted to post to you but I’ve been short of words this summer for some reason.

          The field full of jumbo sunflowers we planted behind the swimming pool out the back windows was beautiful for about a month.

          I hope everything is going great for you guys down there.

          Everyday we all get now is a huge bonus & we should put them to good use.

        2. BTW:

          You may find this short video clip as funny as I did.

          It’s just a hair over 3 minutes long.

          You will need to go to the bottom right & click the skip the ad to kill the sound, a few sounds later click to bring the volume back.

          The key part is from about a minute in to 4:14.

          Babylon Bee describes weirdos from LA moving to Texas.


          1. Oky1………LOL That was so funny …and true. Thank you
            We can usually spot Californians by the way they drive. They’re always frantic!

    3. Mespo:

      I love the redemptive message in the video. The community came together to clean up a mess they didn’t make. The perpetrators and mother came, too. The guys got a chance to learn how they really hurt someone, and they cleaned up their own mess. Best of all, they worked for the man to pay off damages.

      No one is perfect. When people make a mistake they should apologize and make amends.They can be forgiven.

Comments are closed.