WHEELING – The Northern Panhandle has lost one of its great citizens. Judge Arthur Recht, who just last Friday from the bench, bantered with lawyers and enjoyed himself to the fullest in his role as judge, passed away Sunday surrounded by his adoring family.
We all adored him.
At times, Judge Recht appeared to come straight from central casting, his stark white hair, his pressed black robe, and his glasses that he would remove when about to make a point.
No single article about him could possibly encompass all of his achievements, successes, recognitions, or impact. But let me make a few observations about the man I knew as Judge Recht.
Judge Recht always was prepared, truly the one of the highest compliments in the profession. And we who appeared before him knew it. It changed everything.
He had a confidence that allowed him to rule on the most difficult of issues, when needed, from the bench. He never was afraid to do what was difficult and always was leading the way showing the rest of us how to do the same thing.
He had a twinkle in his eye. You can see it in his picture. Anyone who speaks of him and tells stories or recounts his intellectual prowess has that same twinkle.
He had a fastidious attention to detail that delighted most, including me. We all understood that he was gifted. It made his judicial decisions all the more forceful. It wasn’t just a judge. It was Judge Recht. And there it was ... he was the standard.
Trial lawyers love judges who are in charge, decisive, smart, prepared, engaged and witty. He was all of those things. He loved being a judge, and he was born to do it.
Whether on the circuit court bench or as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Appeals, from the "Recht Decision," which changed education funding in West Virginia, to decisions leading to the closing of the West Virginia Penitentiary, to decisions that saved the lives of abused or neglected children, the legacy of the man cannot be measured. It’s simply more than one can assess. Everything he did was impactful.
Lawyers, jurors, witnesses, court staff and the public all benefited from his kindness, wisdom and, sometimes, from a stern lecture. One friend recounted to me recently how she had missed jury duty 30 years ago and he brought her in for a Judge Recht lecture. She left feeling respected, but understanding the importance of jurors to our system of justice, and then never missed jury duty again. That’s a awesome legacy for a judge to have left. He made West Virginia’s First Judicial Circuit better with every move he made.
I often heard him referred to as “one of the smartest judges ever to serve the State of West Virginia.” I’m here to testify, it’s true. He was brilliant. I know I speak for many when I say we are grateful for his wonderful life and service. Thank you, Judge Recht.
Toriseva is a trial lawyer from Wheeling.