I have represented more than a few soldiers and their partners —both officers and enlisted men and women.  Service members do stupid things like everyone else, but they are relatively easy to help because they are organized, efficient and follow instructions extremely well.  While income and benefits are predictable, their relational dynamics are taxed by trauma and distance.

When L.C. finished the Fordice divorce which I have written about before, people from all over the state wanted his help.  Obviously, working out of town can be logistically difficult, so he sent me.  One of the first places I spent a good bit of time was Meridian, the home of a Naval Air Station base, which trains sailors and marines in aviation and technically related fields. Meridian’s economy is largely dependent on the military. Lockheed Martin has a facility there.  It began manufacturing operations in August of 1969, initially producing an arrangement of stabilizing surfaces at the tail of an airplane. Since then, the Meridian facility has been involved in the production of many aircraft components. 

I have made the drive to Meridian from Jackson more times than I can count.  Headed over a place in the interstate called “the stack” onto I-20, there is a billboard and a picture of a plaintiff’s lawyer with the slogan, “One Call, That’s All.”  Many others have joined Mr. Schwartz through the years —some have lasted, but many have not.

On most of my drives to Meridian, I travel straight into the sun.  It is a time when there is only one thing I can effectively do –drive.  When I got a smartphone (well after I started practicing law), driving became a little more complicated, as it is too tempting to dangerously check emails and send text messages.  Social media is distracting as well.  Few people want to talk on the phone before 8:00 a.m., so sometimes I turn off the radio and listen to the sound of air moving around my vehicle.  At times I pray or try to just be during this brief escape from the business of life, searching for my center again, even if it is in a car on the way to work.

About five miles from the Chunky River, the road descends a hill through a pine forest.  When the eastern and western bound lanes diverge around a group of tall trees, I am on notice my short journey has come to an end.   The next sign I see says, “Meridian, Next 5 Exits.” 

I have arrived at the Queen City.

My destination is usually the Lauderdale County Courthouse, a haggard art deco building in the middle of town.  In front of the structure, there is a red, white and blue carousel horse gilded in stars and stripes.  It is one of the dozen or so adorned by local painters –a public art project.  Standing guard on the west side of the building is a statue erected in 1902 of a confederate soldier.  The false columnated pedestal upon which he stands has the following inscription below crossed swords: 

Dedicated to the men, women and children of 1861 to 1865 whose sublime devotion to duty aroused the admiration of the world, who were ambitious but to serve their country and were ever ready to be sacrificed for it, may their lives be an inspiration for emulation to generations yet unborn the history of the valor and fortitude of the confederate solider in defense of Constitutional liberty is the heritage of the South.

Across the front of the court building is another engraving which reads, “Whatsoever a Man Soeth, That Shall He Also Reap.”  At the top of the steps is the smoker’s perch.  I would greet those inclined to nicotine, including the longtime court administrator, Sue Franklin, with a cheerful “Good Morning.” 

Directly above the door, chiseled in stone I see the words, “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.”  I start to get excited –like a football player running through the tunnel onto the field.

Jerry Mason was the best judge who ever presided over one of my cases.  He served the people of Lauderdale County for 36 years.  I do not believe the higher courts ever overturned one of his decisions. 

There were also local celebrity attorneys in Meridian who helped me develop my abilities, like Henry Palmer, Leonard Cobb, Joe Kieronski, Larry Primeaux and many others.  They practiced at a very high level, and have always been welcoming to me.  On my very first visit to town, Joe Kieronski showed me how to get a parking pass and invited me to the Lauderdale County monthly luncheon. 

I felt included and seen.

Years ago, I had the privilege to try a rare-for-me jury trial with the late Henry Palmer.  He was in a wheelchair during the years I knew him, and he had a beautiful rose gold Rolex.  We would have long, whiskey-soaked conversations in the evenings talking strategy.  During the opening statement of our defamation case, he spoke about how we do not name our children Judas because he was the betrayer of Jesus.  It was moving.

Henry had been involved in local politics before I ever thought about becoming an attorney, having been elected as district attorney for the 10th District in 1974, the same year I was born.  He was the youngest elected DA in Mississippi history. Subsequently, his fellow citizens voted for him to serve eight years as a Circuit judge. He went on to share an office with the infamous Robbie Jones, who I call The Professor.  There has been a race to Robbie’s office by divorcing Meridianites for decades.  Henry practiced law until the day of his death. Robbie claims he is retiring this summer, but I think the proverbial jury is still out, as a good bit of piss and vinegar remain within the veins of that veteran counselor.

As we pause this time of year to celebrate America, I think of the many men and women who I have counseled whose personal lives have been impacted by a choice to serve America.  I also think about people like Henry Palmer and Judge Jerry Mason, who served their fellow men as attorneys, prosecutors, and judges.  The words “Thank You” are insufficient, but we should always take the opportunity to say them anyway.

Happy birthday America, and to those who make daily sacrifices to protect our way of life, we are indebted to you.

Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling. For over 24 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. You will want him in your corner because he knows the things you care about deeply are at stake, and he will counsel you about wholistic modalities to foster health and wellbeing. He once had an office in Lauderdale County, and he always welcomes Meridianites who are in family conflict to share their journey with our team.