The WVU College of Law Justitia Officium recognizes outstanding contributions and service to the legal profession and is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Law. It was established in 1978 in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the College of Law.
The Justitia Officium is traditionally presented annually at Commencement. A bronze plaque bearing the recipient’s name and year awarded is mounted in the lobby of the College of Law.
The 2015 Justitia Officium recipients are Franklin D. Cleckley, Darrell V. McGraw, Jr., and Larry V. Starcher.
Franklin D. Cleckley
Franklin D. Cleckley is considered by many to be one of the state’s most influential legal scholars and practitioners. Born and raised with 10 brothers and sisters in Huntington, he received his undergraduate education at Anderson College in Indiana in 1962 and his J.D. from Indiana University School of Law in 1965.
Following law school, Cleckley served three years as a NavyJAG officer, acquiring the reputation as the most requested lawyer in Vietnam. After his military service, he earned an LL.M. from Harvard University in 1969.
In 1969, Cleckley joined the faculty at the West Virginia University College of Law, becoming the first holder of the Arthur B. Hodges Chair of Law. He was the first African-American member of the faculty and staff at the College of Law, and the first full-time African-American professor at West Virginia University.
A demanding legal educator, Cleckley was frequently selected by students for the Outstanding Teacher Award. He has influenced generations of lawyers who have gone on to serve at the bar, in the legislature, on the bench, and in other leadership capacities around the world.
In 1994, Cleckley was appointed by the governor to serve on the Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia, where he served with distinction for two years. He was the first African-American on the state’s highest court. During his tenure, Cleckley wrote over 100 majority opinions.
Cleckley is the author of the “Handbook on Evidence for West Virginia Lawyers” and the “Handbook on West Virginia Criminal Procedures,” volumes referred to as “the bible for West Virginia’s judges and attorneys” by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Cleckley has successfully argued many important civil rights cases in the state and revived the Mountain State Bar Association, the oldest minority bar in the country, founded in 1915. Over the course of his career, he frequently served as a one-man legal aid society for clients who could not afford legal representation. He also established a foundation that gives former convicts educational and employment opportunities.
In 2013, Cleckley retired from the WVU College of Law, becoming a professor emeritus.
Darrell V. McGraw, Jr. .
Darrell Vivian McGraw, Jr. has left an indelible mark on the law of West Virginia, serving as a Supreme Court Justice and Attorney General with distinction.
A native son of McGraws/Tipple in Wyoming County, he was educated at John McGraw School, Berea Academy, and Pineville High School. He served three years in the U.S. Army, before attending WVU. In 1959, as student body president, McGraw completed a student government project to obtain the mast of the USS West Virginian that stands as a landmark at the University.
He continued his education at WVU, earning a J.D. in 1964, and returning to earn a master’s degree in 1977.
Following law school, McGraw served as counsel to Governor Hulett C. Smith and to the Legislature while in private practice. In 1976, he was elected to the Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia, serving until 1988.
At the Supreme Court, McGraw established himself as a progressive jurist. A few of the recognized landmark actions of the court during his time included the 1978 Mandolidis decision, which recognized the rights of injured workers to hold intentional violators of work place safety laws accountable; the mandating of proper funding of public education; the enforcing of human rights law; and the obligating of proper funding for public pensions. In 1987, he served as the state’s Chief Justice.
In 1992, McGraw was elected Attorney General of West Virginia and served five terms in that office until 2013. The Consumer Protection Division under McGraw was greatly expanded, received national recognition and for two decades it engaged in exemplary work recovering multi-millions in dollars on behalf of West Virginia consumers, especially the state’s elderly and most vulnerable.
As Attorney General, McGraw was involved in many high profile national cases, including as a leader in the 1998 multi-billion state tobacco settlement that ultimately entitled West Virginia to $1.8 billion.
In his public service McGraw advanced the causes of civil rights, social justice, health care, environmental protection, governmental accountability, children’s welfare, and employee protection to ensure benefit of their law to all West Virginians.
McGraw is married to educator Dr. Jorea Marple, who served as the first female West Virginia Superintendent of Schools.
Larry V. Starcher
Born near Henry’s Creek between Roane and Calhoun counties, Larry V. Starcher is a long-serving and distinguished member of the legal community in the state. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1964 and his J.D. in 1967 from WVU.
He was a Justice on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia from 1997-2008, serving as Chief Justice in 1999 and 2003. He retired from the Supreme Court at the end of 2008, becoming a Senior Status Justice/Judge. He served as a Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge from 1977-1996 with 18 years as the Court’s Chief Judge.
Since January 2009 Starcher has been a Lecturer in Law at the West Virginia University College of Law, teaching trial advocacy and pre-trial litigation. He has served as an adjunct faculty in the College’s trial advocacy program since 1991. As a Senior Status Justice/Judge, Starcher has also served as judge on over 100 trial court cases since retiring from the Supreme Court.
Prior to his career as a jurist, Starcher was the Director of the North Central West Virginia Legal Aid Society and a private lawyer. He was also an assistant to the WVU Vice-President of Off-Campus Education.
As a circuit judge, Starcher was active in the area of juvenile justice reform, pioneered the use of work-release and community service as punishment for non-violent offenders, and handled several jail and prison conditions by appointment by the Supreme Court. He also presided over 20,000 asbestos injury cases and sat as judge on a six-month state buildings asbestos trial.
Serving on the Supreme Court as Chief Justice, Starcher promoted diversity of Court staff, developed the circuit judge law clerk program, worked for improvements in the administration of the judiciary, and reactivated the gender fairness task force.
Starcher has authored several hundred reported court opinions and many articles, including “Choosing West Virginia’s Judges,” Quinnipac Law Review (2001), and “A Judicial Philosophy: People-Oriented Justice,” West Virginia Law Review (2009).
He and his wife, Becky, have three children who are all WVU graduates.