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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Francis W. Jamison - A Remembrance



In the early summer of 1964 I walked into a trailer located on the Max Moscow Motel
parking lot on West Colfax Ave in Lakewood, Colorado. That was the headquarters of
the Jefferson County Democratic Party. There I met Joyce Jamison, the Secretary of
the party. I told her I wanted to join the Teen Dems. She told me there was no
active group, but suggested we could start a new one. So together we formed a plan
to build a new Jefferson County Teen Democrats. By the early fall, we had over 120 active
members. 


Among the various things we did as an organization was to help distribute
campaign fliers for the slate of Democrats running for elective office in Jefferson County,
a large suburb west of Denver.It was at my first such distribution that I met Joyce's husband,
Frank Jamison, who was running for county judge along with Daniel Shannon and Charlie Flett.
I knew nothing of any of the candidates qualifications other than they were Democrats. That 
was good enough for me. Our group of Teen Dems walked up and down the streets knocking on doors
to distribute the literature. At the end of our task, Frank Jamison provided donuts(which he
fondly called 'donies'). I thought "I like this guy". We had some Teen Dem meetings at the Jamison house
where I learned that they had four children all younger than me. Joyce and Frank were both very
outgoing and gregarious. I liked them both and envied their children in having such great parents
because that family was the opposite of the one in which I lived. 

1964 was a landslide year for Democrats in Colorado. LBJ led the Democratic Party to victory
even in normally Republican Jefferson County. Both Daniel Shannon and Frank Jamison won election
to the county bench. One afternoon after Frank Jamison was sworn into office, I went to the
county courthouse to visit him.  I had never known the judge or anyone else of importance at that
point in my life. I was then 18 years old but very naive in the ways of the world. The judge
sensed my naivete which I will relate later. We formed the beginning of a lifetime relationship 
in which he became the most important person in my life. 

My father died the week before I graduated from high school. My parents were divorced.  MY
mother lived in Minneapolis. I had lived in Denver with my dad. I had planned to go to college
but did not have any money to do so. Neither parent had been supportive of me going to college. 
I received Social Security upon my father's death which helped pay some of my college
education until I reached age 21. Judge Jamison offered me a job at the county courthouse as a 
civil clerk during the year between my freshman and sophomore years in college. The money I 
earned that year was pretty good for a college student and that helped pay a good portion of
my sophomore year's education. In 1968 I had the opportunity to work as Judge Jamison's bailiff
from late June until college resumed in early September.

The judge offered me a job as his clerk if and when I got admitted to law school. 
That occurred in late 1969 and my job title was upgraded and I got a big pay raise. I was
the judge's legal staff assistant.  The judge had convinced the Colorado Supreme Court to
create the position of legal staff assistant to offer law students first-hand courtroom
experience by handling routine courtroom responsibilities and doing legal research for a judge.  

I don't want to overstate what my job was because I was still essentially a bailiff who got a
pretty hefty paycheck compared to what a lot of grown men with families to support were making at
that time.  Among my duties was calling court to order, swearing in witnesses, and keeping the
court docket moving.  My most important job was making morning coffee and having everything
ready for the judge when he arrived. On many occasions I would have to drive over to King
Soopers to buy fresh "donies" so we could all get our coffee and sugar rush before meeting the public.  

I would bang gavel, the judge would enter the courtroom, mount the bench and dispense with justice. That was our running gag. The thing is he never took himself all that seriously. He took the job seriously, but not himself. We had a discussion one day about his being a "judge" and what that meant to him. I recall him saying something like he did not judge his fellow man but instead judged what his fellow man had done. He did not put himself above others and sit in judgment of them as people but he did judge their acts.  After I became an attorney and appeared in courtrooms across the state I quickly learned that few judges shared the same ethos with Judge Jamison. Most judges I appeared before acted pretty damned important. 

Judge Jamison did, however, require deference to his position as a judge, but not to him.
I recall the day I went to the Jury Commissioner's office to retrieve a jury venire (panel 
of prospective jurors). I think there were 18 or 24 veniremen that I took back to the courtroom.
Except one man walked away from the panel between the commissioner's office and the courtroom. 
The judge was not amused. He ordered a bench warrant for the arrest of the reluctant juror
in front of the jury panel We proceeded with the trial that day.
Within a few days the missing juror had been arrested.  He posted bond and later appeared before
the judge where he had the opportunity to explain why he avoided coming to court with his fellow
jurors. The man gave some lame excuse. (People always have lame excuses for their actions.) 

I remember what happened next fairly well. The judge imposed a heft fine (about $1,000 which
was a lot of money back then) and a 30 day jail sentence which was to commence immediately.
The judge said "Mr. Bailiff, call the Sheriff to escort the defendant to the county jail" or something 
to that affect. Then the judge motioned for me to approach the bench. He told me to go into the clerk's office, not to call the Sheriff, and to come back out and watch the defendant to make sure he did not leave the courtroom.
I went to the clerk's office, had a cup of coffee or did something to occupy a few minutes, and returned to the courtroom and where after I kept a steady eye on the the reluctant juror. After the entire docket had been called the judge order the man back before the court. The judge said that he hoped spending the day in court watching people come before the court had impressed upon the man the importance of our judicial system and how important it is that citizens have the right to appear before a judge or a jury to have a trial to determine a person's 
conduct. The judge suspended the 30 day jail sentence on condition that the man successfully complete one year of supervised probation. 

Then there was the case of the little seven year old boy who had belt marks all over his back, legs, and buttocks. His grandmother discovered the welts while giving the kid a bath. The child's parents had divorced and the kid was spending the weekend at his dad's mother's house. The grandmother called her son who came over and saw the boy's body. They called the police who came and took photos and found out that the mother had a boyfriend who lived with the boy and his mother. As I recall the boy wet his bed for which the boyfriend punished him.

The boyfriend was a big burly tow truck driver. This guy looked like someone you'd expect to see on an episode of The Closer or LAW AND ORDER Special Victims Unit. It was pathetic. There was this tiny little boy who was severely beaten by this big ape of a man. The jury promptly convicted convicted him. 

The judge did something I never saw or heard him do before. He said something to the affect: "The Court is so outraged by your conduct that it cannot fairly impose sentence at this time. You are ordered to report to the probation department for a pre-sentence evaluation." The judge never expressed outrage at anybody or anything. He was visibly angry. I could hear the rage in his voice. It scared me and I wasn't the guy in trouble. The guy deserved as much jail time as the law would allow. But the judge resisted doing that.
 
He made this face for the camera - he never looked like this!
About a month later the defendant appeared in court with his attorney who appeared small by comparison. Just seeing
the two stand next to each other showed just how damned big that oaf was compared to that little boy. The judge gave the defendant a year in jail or something like that but then suspended the sentence on the condition he successfully complete a year's probation. I think everybody who watched that trial was pissed. I know I was. I have never gotten over the cruelty of what that man did that little kid.

Then there was the case of the "junior dick" as I called him. John was a 16 or 17 year old boy got into major trouble by driving his car at high speeds through multiple jurisdictions with cops in hot pursuit. The chase began in Arvada. It moved through Wheat Ridge and then into Lakewood Colorado. The Jefferson County Sheriff and the Colorado State Patrol were on this kid's tail with red lights and sirens flashing as well. This is the kind of pursuit you'd see on that L.A. TV station that has helicopters following bad boys in cars as they try to elude the police. In this case, John was eventually stopped, taken into custody, and hauled before his honor Francis W. Jamison for a late afternoon advisement of his rights. 

If they cops wanted a piece of this kid's flesh, they got the wrong judge. The judge read the charges and ordered the boy to appear in court with his parents at a later date. Instead of putting the boy in jail, he let him go free on his own recognizance. I'm sure the cops were pretty upset with what the judge did. But what he did next was more amazing. As he left the courthouse the judge saw John sitting on the steps near the parking lot where the judges parked their cars. The judge talked to John and asked if his parents were coming. No, they were not.

John explained he had a run-in with his girlfriend's father, an important attorney in Arvada. This father did not like John and used his position as an attorney to get the police to go after the boy. That was why John was fleeing the cops. The judge took John home with him. He stayed with the Jamison family for quite a while. Much later the judge talked to the District Attorney to hire John to run errands for the department. That's why I called him a "junior dick" for "junior detective". All of this
occurred more than forty years ago. I am fuzzy on what all happened, but I know that John, like a lot of other people, maintained a life long contact with Judge Jamison. 

There were lots of boys like John but not enough bedrooms at the Jamison house to take care of all of them. Frank or Joyce had four or five kids like John who spent considerable time with the Jamisons until they could transition back to the world. Judge Jamison founded Jefferson Hall as a safe place for trouble youth to have a clean place to live that was an alternative to incarceration. 

The judge also founded the volunteer probation program that became a part of the Jefferson County Court system. Area residents were trained in how to help youths and adults in a less structured program than traditional probation. This program gave judges a less costly alternative to professional supervised probation and yet gave the court a tool to keep track of people who had had a brush with the law that required further monitoring.

Judge Jamison left the bench in 1970 to become a full time Professor at the University of Denver College of Law where he taught evidence and civil procedure. The judge had been a member of the night time teaching faculty before then. He and Joyce and four teen aged children. The university offered free tuition to family members of the teaching faculty. I think the opportunity to provide free college educations to his children was a motivating factor in the decision to leave the bench. Over the years Judge Jamison sat in as visiting judge in many jurisdictions. He was engaged by the Colorado Supreme Court to persuade errant judges errant judges to resign rather than face disbarment.

I maintained contact with Judge Jamison over the years. When I eventually figured out that I was gay I went to his office to let him know. He said "I was wondering when you would figure it out." He was never judgmental about me. Contrary, he more supportive of me than anyone in my family. His laugh and buoyant personality made all the bad stuff one faces in life to away. Time does heal all (or mostly all) wounds.

If anyone actually reads all of what I have written I must admit I have made my share of mistakes in life. When I made big ones,
I would go see him or call him. It was maybe like a Catholic who goes to a priest to confess one's sins.  He didn't bless me but he didn't judge me either. We talked out whatever I may have done. It became a learning experience. 

Judge Francis W. Jamison passed away on February 26, 2013. He was 83 years old. I went to Denver to attend his memorial service. I had not been back to Denver for twenty years. This was the largest memorial service I ever attended. There were over four hundred people there including Supreme Court and lower court judges, former and current District Attorneys and Deputies, and attorneys of all types. The Dean of the Law School was there. Former students of Professor Jamison were there. Friends and family were there. They were all there on a very cold Friday afternoon to honor the man who was their teacher, mentor, colleague, friend, father, grandfather, great grandfather, husband, soldier, and a former meat cutter who made good.

A former bailiff who later became the District Attorney in a southern Colorado county recounted his time working for Judge Jamison. He told the funny stories and fond remembrances that I thought only I had with this man. Another attorney whose name I had heard over the years had been Professor Jamison's teaching 
assistant. He recounted the tails of working for and learning from this man who he felt as close to as his father. The Dean of the Law School recounted on his first day at D.U. as a professor. Frank Jamison introduced himself and invited the new prof to join him and his group for lunch. It was a simple gesture, but it was that simple thing that made a huge impact on this man who later became Dean. Frank Jamison's nephew told of how his uncle (who he felt was more like a big brother) was the most important man in his life. The judge had had the same affect on the lives of other men and women just like me. I was not alone in my admiration or respect for this man.

I know that everything I have in the world is a result of my having walked into the trailer on West Colfax Avenue and meeting Joyce Jamison who extended a hand of friendship to me and later having met the man who shared donies with the teen dems who worked on his campaign to become a county judge. I will 
be forever grateful for the opportunity to have known this truly remarkable human being. 



6 comments:

FloridaAG said...

This is a wonderful tribute Gary.

By the way, 1218 Varela is amazing. No doubt.

Anonymous said...

Great memory of your friend. Thanks for sharing it with your readers.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story. With the world in such chaos these days, this was something I needed to read. Thank you Gary for making my day.

Jamey Jamison said...

Gary, thank you for the kind words about my Dad. It was nice seeing you. I too remember 1964 and working in the trailer parked out side of the Holiday Lanes bowling alley. That was before air conditioning. I also remember you working for dad at the courthouse. Jamey

Lorrie Jamison said...

Dear Gary, I also thank you for the kind words about my Dad. I am sitting in my kitchen reading this memorial about him with tears in my eyes and a huge smile on my face. The thing I miss most about my Dad, besides his laughter, is being able to go to him for advise or to ask him what he thinks about some important issue in the news. He was such an intelligent man with a big presence and love for life, friends and family. His is greatly missed. - Lorrie Jamison

steve ehrlich said...

I loved everything about Frank and all of the time that I was fortunate enough to spend with him as his teaching assistant, lunch buddy, student and friend.

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I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.