Alumni News

In an article for the Richmond Law Review celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, the Honorable Marla Graff Decker, L’83, and her co-author, the Honorable Stephen McCullough, L’97, emphasized one key point in particular: that the institution strives to be “efficient, collegial, accessible,” and, in short, “a court for the people.”

Today, Decker upholds those ideals in a different role: Her term as newly elected chief judge of Virginia’s Court of Appeals started on Jan. 1.

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,” Decker said. “I just knew I wanted to stay in Virginia and do something in public service.”

Right out of law school, she went on to work for Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General, where she handled criminal appeals and other criminal matters. Decker was eventually tapped by Gov. Bob McDonnell to be Virginia’s 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,” she said.

Decker was appointed to the Court of Appeals in November 2013, then elected to an eight-year term in January 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.”

In her new role, 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, Decker can often be found back on the campus of Richmond Law. She teaches an evening course in lawyering skills for upperclass 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,” Decker said, “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.”