Jim Morse: from the bench to the sketch pad

N-2-T-CP-Jim-Morse-C-copyBy Phyl Newbeck

Jim Morse has been many things in his life including a veteran, a lawyer, a judge, and a consultant to a war crimes tribunal, but these days he’s added author/illustrator to the list with a book entitled “Morse’s Doodles and Jots.” The 33-year resident of Charlotte is pleased to have added another dimension to his life.

Morse graduated from Dartmouth College and then served in the Navy before attending Boston University Law School. When he began practicing in Vermont, he had no particular agenda. “I just liked being a lawyer,” he said. After a contract system was put into place for public defenders, Morse applied to do the work in Chittenden County. He subsequently became Vermont Defender General, often facing off against Patrick Leahy who was the County Prosecutor. “I loved it because I got a lot of experience,” he said “and because it’s important that everyone get due process of law.”

In 1988 Morse was appointed Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court where he served until 2003. Retiring from the bench did not mean full retirement. Morse had always been interested in children’s rights, noting that kids don’t have the same privileges adults do. In particular, Morse wanted to work on behalf of abused and neglected children. “It’s arbitrary that we’re born into families not of our choosing,” he said. “Some of these kids had the bad luck of not having the best parents.” Morse worked in what is now known as the Vermont Department of Children and Families, helping Agency of Human Resources (AHS) Director Charlie Smith reorganize the department. “That was a very rewarding experience,” he said.

Morse left state government in 2005. The following year he was picked to serve as a consultant to the war crimes tribunal in Sarajevo. The court was relatively new and Morse was chosen in part because of his organizational work at AHS. The following year he was tapped to serve as a trustee for Hunger Free Vermont. “It woke me up,” Morse said. “I had never really thought about hunger as an issue but it became apparent that it’s one of the most important issues there is. If you don’t feed people, nothing really matters.” Morse served four years at Hunger Free Vermont and is currently on the board of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Morse was an art major in college but left that world behind to concentrate on words instead of pictures. “When I retired I started drawing,” he said. “I liked to collect sayings I made up over the years and I had always kept a journal. I decided to marry the sayings to the drawings.” Morse wanted to have his work published so he would have something to show his grandchildren. The book isn’t flying off the shelves but Morse has gotten some positive reviews. “I didn’t really expect that it would become a bestseller,” he said. “That was never my goal. I haven’t seen anything like it on the market and the people who have read it say they like it.”