12/25/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
Marcia Clark doesn't believe that cameras belong in courtrooms. No doubt she has been influenced by her own 10 months in front of the unblinking lens on a case that helped transform the once-anonymous, $96,000-a-year public servant into both tabloid fodder and a national Rorschach test on working moms. To some, including the publishing company Viking, which in November offered her a $4.2 million advance to tell her story, Clark, 42, has become a hero, a victims'-rights advocate and feisty professional whose goal, says a friend, "is the truth." To detractors, though, Clark is the reason O.J. Simpson could happily shoot an 82 in Panama City Beach, Fla. "She overdid everything," says L.A. Deputy District Attorney Sterling Norris, a political opponent of the man who picked Clark for the job, D.A. Gil Garcetti. "This case will be used as a teaching device for how not to do it."
During the trial, Clark managed to laugh off most of the attacks. She changed her hairdo, friends explain, because she likes to try new styles, not because she cared about how she looked on TV. And most of those spiffy suits she wore she borrowed from pals. Not until her estranged husband, computer programmer Gordon Clark, dragged her into a bitter custody battle, did Clark crack. When Hard Copy polled viewers about whether Clark's sons Travis, 5, and Kyle, 3, should be allowed to stay with their mother during the trial, Clark—who had raced home every night to tuck her kids in before heading back to the office—burst into tears. "It hurt her to be criticized about her mothering abilities when she loves her kids and loves being a mom," says friend Lynn Reed Baragona.
The tide of scrutiny has begun to ebb—a little. Not long ago, Clark denied reports that she is engaged to fellow prosecutor Christopher Darden. ("Where's my ring?" she said she demanded when she heard the rumors.) As she recuperates from the trial, Clark is discovering her abilities as a role model. "I learned to trust my own instincts," she recently said, "to look within myself for the final decision." That may not hold up in a court of law, but in life, it's a winning move.