Today [January 22, 2010] I attended the funeral of Calvin Morris. Calvin would be on the short list of favorite clients.
I first met Calvin when his disability attorney asked me to assist him. A family court judge had sentenced Calvin to jail for failing to pay his child support, which Calvin had fallen behind on when, while working as a service technician for Bell South, he fell two stories and permanently injured his back. The judge had temporarily stayed his order giving Calvin limited time to prove his disability and provide a payment plan on his child support arrears before he had to serve his sentence. We convinced that judge to not incarcerate Calvin and, after his Social Security disability was approved, resolved his child support issue. Shortly thereafter Calvin hired me to obtain custody of his twins. He obtained temporary custody during the case, and his case resulted in my first custody trial with Calvin keeping custody.
Calvin and I came from completely different backgrounds but shared core values. He attended DeVry Institute of Technology in Atlanta Georgia, where he earned a degree in 1974 in Engineering Electronic Technology. He earned a Bachelor degree in Divinity at South Carolina Conference Ministerial Studies in 1977, and was then ordained as an Elder in the AME Church. For a time he worked as a minister in the AME Church. Before becoming disabled he had helped raise an older daughter as a single father (with some assistance from his mother); that daughter was a high school honors graduate and a specialist in the Army when I first met Calvin. After he became disabled he used his free time to minister in the Wadmalaw Island community and was elected to the local consultant school board. He worked actively to preserve and improve rural schools and pastored throughout the Lowcountry.
Both of us shared a love of learning and of culture, valued our responsibilities as a father to nurture our children, and felt an obligation to contribute to our communities. We also shared a love of the beach and of the original Star Wars trilogy. After he gained custody of his twins, Calvin and I would often do outings to Kiawah Island or the movies, with Calvin taking his twins and me taking my older daughter (who was about the same age).
A few years ago some of Calvin’s community work was misinterpreted and the twins were removed from his custody. He sought my assistance to get them back. It was almost a year before I could convince the family court that the allegations lacked substantial evidence and his twins were immediately returned–literally within the courthouse. I will never forget the enthusiastic bearhug Calvin gave me when the judge announced his ruling [Calvin was a big man and his bearhugs were enveloping] nor will I forget the look on his and his twins’ faces when they were reunited. To see them was to know transcendent joy. Few moments in life have given me greater satisfaction.
I have always believed that the lives of Calvin and his twins [who are seniors in high school and recently turned eighteen] were greatly improved and changed by Calvin getting custody. The twins’ mother had lived in isolated poverty and, though she worked hard, she had four other young children to care for, and had limited time to look after the twins’ educational, cultural or spiritual development. By enabling Calvin to care for them beginning at a very young age, he was able to devote substantial time and energy to their upbringing. I am glad they got to know their father so well before he passed away and am equally glad that he got to spend so much time with them while they were still children. I take some pride in helping enable Calvin and others like him develop a great relationship with their children (and in allowing these children to develop sustained relationships with my clients). Yet I remain ever grateful to those clients who have trusted me to assist them, especially those clients like Calvin who trusted me early in my career when there were numerous more experienced attorneys they could have retained.
Family law attorneys sometimes get cynical about the endless parade of misery–much of it self-inflicted–that come through our offices. Family court clients are equally cynical about their attorneys, who they often see as uninterested in working for their goals but very interested in getting paid. In this cycle of cynicism it is easy to lose sight of the tremendous benefit that a family law attorney can provide someone in developing meaningful relationships with the people they care about and the tremendous benefit that our clients provide us in allowing us to do dignified and remunerative work. Most attorneys I know have at least a few clients whose passing they would mourn. For me, Calvin was one of those clients.