In an article for the Richmond Law Review celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, the Hon. Marla Graff Decker and her co-author, the Hon. Stephen McCullough, emphasized one key point in particular: that the institution strives to be “efficient, collegial, accessible,” and in short, “a court for the people.” 

Today, Judge Decker upholds those ideals in a different role: Her term as newly elected Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals started on Jan. 1, 2019. 

Judge Decker’s public service career launched in law school during an internship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, where she had plenty of hands-on experience in federal court. “I had such a wonderful experience … that I just knew I wanted to stay in Virginia and do something in public service,” said Judge Decker. She went on to work for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office right out of law school, where she handled criminal appeals and other criminal matters.  Judge Decker was eventually tapped by Governor Bob McDonnell to be Secretary of Public Safety. “In that capacity I stepped out of the role of a lawyer for the Commonwealth and into operational management and public policy,” said Judge Decker. 

Judge Decker was appointed to the Court of Appeals in Nov. 2013, then elected for an eight-year term in Jan. 2014. “I had argued for 20 years in front of that court, and I really enjoyed appellate practice,” she said. “This was quite an honor and a tremendous opportunity for me.” Plus, the position “enabled me to get back into the legal world, this time as a member of the judiciary.” Now as Chief, Judge Decker is responsible for administrative, operational, and ceremonial responsibilities in addition to her day-to-day duties as an appellate judge. 

When she’s not serving on the bench, Judge Decker can often be found back on campus at Richmond Law. She teaches an evening course in lawyering skills for upper-class students, and is a frequent judge of moot court competitions. She volunteers with mock interviews, and co-chairs the Law School Alumni Board. “I wouldn’t be where I am without having the law school experience that I had at the University of Richmond,” said Judge Decker, “and so my effort to give back is to participate and provide access to the students so that they might benefit from where I’ve been and what I’ve done.” 

Photo: Judge Decker (center) is a frequent judge at moot court competitions for Richmond Law.