Huntington Attorney Jim St. Clair Dead at 85

by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Huntington Attorney Jim St. Clair Dead at 85

Legendary Huntington attorney Jim St. Clair  passed away,  after a long illness, said his son, Sam St. Clair . He was 85.

St. Clair practiced law for for 41 years from 1961-2002 successfully managing a three person law. However, he will be remembered for his devotion to Huntington landmarks, including the historic B & O railroad station which became Heritage Village. He was President of Huntington Realty Corporation; Town and Country Shopping Center Inc., Former Director of: First Huntington National Bank; Central Realty; C.J .Hughes Construction Company; J.B.L. Construction Company; General Allied Oil and Gas Company (a company listed on the Vancouver B.C. Stock Exchange) and other companies .  

He served  numerous non-profit organizations both locally and internationally. St Clair lectured on numerous occasions concerning law practice management; trial practice; real estate law; commercial law and other subjects at:  WV Law School. ABA Seminars, State and Local Bar Associations. 

Jim enjoyed sharing his legal knowledge as volunteer for the American Bar Association, CEELI Projects teaching in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and eleven months as Rule of Law Liaison in Sarajevo, the capitol of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also taught commercial and real estate law as a volunteer member of the International Senior Lawyers Project in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, South Africa, Zambia and Gaborone, Botswana.

Jim did not forget the "little guy." He often could be found at the office after normal hours teaching a potential client the basis of law. They  gained enough jurisprudence to represent themselves. Regarded  as gruff by some, he had a heart of gold.


"Big Jim" rescued me after I had been maliciously wounded. There was something  going down on both criminal and civil levels. He concluded chances for reversal  of corruption, Jim helped  and taught me how to write appeals. I was fatally depressed at the time, but his mentorship shoved me into working on legal research. He succeeded in broadening my mind to not hate opposition attorneys. He  showed me they were just doing what  they were paid for even if their representation bordered into knowingly breaching ethics. He was able to obtain a so called "lost" police report on the incident. The appeal wasn't all writing, I had to answer questions  before  the justices. I obtained permission to rehearse my presentation in the WV Supreme Court room. Jim taught and trained me pro bono. He said if I got the WV Supreme Court to take the case, then, he would sign on to represent me. 

The last dice roll was the U.S. Supreme Court. A legal brief had to be written for the nine justices to evaluate whether they had interest. His incognito teaching after hours nearly earned him a morning coat. The US Supreme Court nearly accepted the case. Because they were serious, the Clerk called me to procedurally explain how to proceed "pro se" (with Jim advising) on a reply brief. I was told, "You have to point out" the answered question in the transcript.  The clerk told me the justices will vote Friday." My trial attorneys error led to a denial. Six months later the Supremes took a similar case that had been heard in federal (not state) court.

Jim  saw promise in me. At one time he offered to formally mentor me in preparation for the Virginia Bar Exam, where they allowed anyone to take the test without formal law school. That didn't happen as my dad passed away, He had me freelance appeals for him and some who did not have an attorney.  One case came from a disabled non-speaking and deaf man whose rights had been denied in jail. But he could type. I questioned him via email and wrote the fact portion of the brief. When Jim's partner took on a case that caused a conflict even for a "consulting" lawyer, the late Charles Haden allowed me to "represent" the man on paper. Although I wrote it, the "client" had to sign it and swear to its truth. The jail had failed to accommodate his disability so he could make a phone call. Judge Haden ruled in the disabled man's favor. He received  a meager settlement , but the jail had to bring their practices so they did not discriminate against the disabled.

After I took pre-law classes at MU,  he would find worthy cases and clients unlikely to find representation. I , then, became a teacher or sorts. The pro se litigant had to learn how to handle his or her case. I taught them the basics of legal research . Although Jim and I had done some preliminary research, more than one laymen litigator dropped out when they experienced a taste of legal work. They would have been helping research  preparation of a complaint or brief. Others learned the process and I stood in a shadow as Jim stood behind me, He read and edited most briefs.  He targeted me to the laws applying  to the case. The pro se individual and I then worked together to find case law that applied to the facts.

I wrote one of his legal seminars, which he weekly edited to keep me on point. He helped me frame a case for Keith Albee preservation that was not formally filed. It was a research mission conducted with the owner's blessing. My doctor took a Save the Keith petition and put it in his waiting room collecting over 500 signatures. I gave It to Congressman Nick Rahall.  This project helped rouse forces to the future of the theater. It could have died a long death by neglect. Fortunately, Derek Hyman and family decided to donate the structure to Marshall. 

After his retirement , he kept his hands on projects like the Coin Harvey House and assisting with his son Sam's interest in the Appalachian Film Festival. 

As a quirk from his training, I learned how to analyze  both sides of cases. Then we argued hypotheticals without making it personal. One of the hardest challenges working with individuals was persuading their version of facts would not be taken as true.

When Jim started aging, I missed his trial battle stories and those where the lawyer had to be a near "shrink."  Concurrently I attended the religious fellowship, PROWL, partly sponsored by First Presbyterian Church. They needed a youth minister. I told him about the talents of a young woman who was PROWL's then student leader. He took my suggestion seriously . The church committee hired her for the  part time position. 

"Big Jim" traveled the world. His trips usually included volunteer work. He shared  what he had learned with those in the lower and middle income groups . When working with these clients who could not afford legal fees, some expressed gratitude by bring a pizza or other snacks for refreshment during a work session as he shared stories of old legal battles.

Now , Jim's telling stories to the saints and angels.