40 Years of Influence: Sheila McCleve

Celebrating 40 years since the graduation of the charter class, BYU Law highlights a few the members in a series of articles and videos. 

As an undergraduate student studying philosophy and English at Brigham Young University, Sheila McCleve ‘76 had no interest in attending law school. That changed, however, after she attended a campus lecture delivered by Tom Reid from Duke University. He talked about Brown v. Board of Education, and it piqued McCleve’s interest. For the first time she “thought that [law] could be a noble profession.”

Dean Rex Lee heard of McCleve’s interest and set out to convince her to come to law school. “Dean Lee could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo,” she said, laughing. The coaxing worked, and in 1973 McCleve headed to BYU Law. She was one of ten women enrolled in the charter class.

After graduating, McCleve continued to have unique experiences as one of few women attorneys. She first worked for Salt Lake County and later became the first full-time female prosecutor for Salt Lake City.

Later in her career, McCleve was a fifth district court judge where she worked as a circuit court judge for 12 years, and then for the third district bench for another 12 years. As a judge, McCleve was sometimes mistaken as a secretary because there were so few female judges. She recalled an instance when a defendant asked her if she was a “real judge,” to which she responded, “I am, and you are going to a real jail.”

As a trail-blazer for women in the law, McCleve has enjoyed her career. “The compelling thing about my life in law is that I got a chance to meet people and talk to them about their lives and about their problems and try to do something that would make a difference for them,” she said.