Former Vermont Supreme Court Justice James Morse dies at 82

James Morse. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Morse.

James Morse, a former Vermont General Court judge and Supreme Court justice who had left retirement to serve as commissioner of what is now the Department of Children and Families, died Friday at his home in Charlotte.

Vermont Superior Court Justice Helen Toor described Morse, who was her neighbor, longtime friend and mentor, as “a sensitive and compassionate soul.” Morse served as a trial court judge from 1981 to 1988 and as an assistant judge on the Vermont Supreme Court from 1988 to 2003.

Montpelier’s attorney Bernie Lambek’s first job out of law school was in 1988 as a clerk at Morse on the Vermont Supreme Court.

“He trusted me and we worked very well together and I learned a lot from him. Very thoughtful. Not particularly ideological. Just a lot of common sense,” Lambek said. “He helped me learn how to understand the law and how to approach the law and how to be a good lawyer.”

The two later served together on the board of directors of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Despite the high-level positions Morse held, Toor said he was “an incredibly gentle and humble person” who could go from sitting on the bench to taking ballet lessons with his granddaughter in a matter of hours.

James Morse is sworn in at the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Morse.

Morse and his 52-year-old wife, Gretchen, “loved having people around,” Toor said. Her home in Charlotte, a little red house by the covered bridge on Lewis Creek, was a meeting point for neighborhood kids who splashed about in their pool while the adults discussed politics, the state of the world and laws, Toor recalled. Almost every day when it was hot outside, she received a message on her cell phone inviting her to come to the pool.

Toor said she remembered Morse as a “real Renaissance man,” writing poetry, taking “absolutely beautiful photographs” of nature, which he compiled and sent in a calendar to friends and family, creating what he called his ” Doodles & Jots” – drawings accompanied by often humorous captions. In 2013, Red Barn Books published his Doodles & Jots.

Jerry Swope, Morse’s son-in-law, said he has fond memories of Morse reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to his grandchildren on Christmas Eve in front of the fire and teaching his grandson to play chess.

“I loved and admired his thoughtfulness. He was a really strong intellect but also connected and engaged on a personal level,” Swope said. “I think he really lived that idea of ​​creating a fairer world.”

After retiring from the Vermont Supreme Court in 2003, Morse was appointed by the then governor. Jim Douglas as Commissioner for the current Department of Children and Families.

“It’s a very unusual career move for anyone, and he just taught me how to take care of the Vermonters,” Lambek said.

Douglas – who once rode to Montpelier with Morse – said he had a vision similar to Morse’s of giving children “a good start”. The two worked together to develop Building Bright Futures for early childhood education, among other initiatives.

Bill Schubart, a neighbor and longtime friend, said Morse decided to move from the Supreme Court to the DCF to make a difference early in Vermont life.

“He wanted to move upstream and see what kind of commitment he can make to help people — families, parents, children — stay out of the criminal justice system,” Schubart said.

“What a wonderful, fulfilling life, how can someone pack so much hard work and kindness into their life?” said Schubert.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

| |
Back to top button