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Late W.Va. Circuit Judge Sencindiver was "old school"

May 07, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The late Circuit Judge Vance E. Sencindiver's standards for court decorum and trial preparation were beyond reproach.

If you didn't dress appropriately, "he didn't care if you were a juror or a lawyer - you were out the door," attorney Patrick Henry III said Tuesday.

Sencindiver died Sunday at City Hospital in Martinsburg. He was 85.

"If you listened to him, you learned a lot. If you didn't listen, you better get out of Dodge," Henry said of Sencindiver's mastery of law and order in the courtroom.

Prior to his 16 years on the state trial court bench in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, Sencindiver was Berkeley County's prosecuting attorney for 20 years and served three more years as the City of Martinsburg's attorney.

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"He knew your case better than you did," said attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III, who considered Sencindiver to be a good teacher who pushed lawyers to do their best and continuously "raised the bar."

Though very helpful to young lawyers, Sencindiver wouldn't do their work for them and wouldn't offer any assistance if they didn't know what state code said first.

Circuit Judge David H. Sanders on Tuesday recalled Sencindiver's offerings of "useful and well-deserved criticism. He could sort of knock some people back."

A Berkeley County native, Sencindiver was the son of an attorney and was a 1946 graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law.

Upon stepping down from the bench, Sencindiver bucked the tradition of having a portrait done to commemorate his service as a jurist.

"He didn't have any personal vanity at all," said Sanders, adding that Sencindiver had a great wit and a delightful personality.

The portraits of previous circuit judges remain in the historic courthouse in Martinsburg, which is no longer in use.

Sanders said he was exploring the possibility of holding a memorial service in the old upstairs courtroom in recognition of Sencindiver's contributions.

Henry said he was not giving up on the possibility of having a portrait done of Sencindiver, if only from a photograph.

One image of Sencindiver that Henry has firmly etched in his memory is the late judge's regimented style: the blue seersucker suit, a tie and white dress shirt. He usually wore a hat, too, Henry said.

"He was old school," Henry said. "You dressed."

Alice Sencindiver was married to Vance Sencindiver's late brother, Gaven, in 1964. They made their home in Washington County.

"At our wedding, I remember that Vance was very gracious in welcoming me to the Sencindiver family," she said.

Funeral services for Sencindiver will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Brown Funeral Home in Martinsburg.

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