After D. Kent Meyers saw the plight of children in the Oklahoma court system, he knew he had to help
Published in 2007 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine
By Andy Steiner on November 9, 2007
One day in 1997, D. Kent Meyers, a director at the Oklahoma City law firm Crowe & Dunlevy, went on a bus tour that changed his life.
“A friend of mine named Don Nicholson called me up and said he was going on something called a ‘Child Watch’ tour,” Meyers says. “I didn’t know anything about it, but Don said, ‘You’re coming too.’”
The tour was a day-long odyssey through Oklahoma City and its environs, sponsored by the nonprofit Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. The Institute runs the Child Watch tours year-round, explains Executive Director Anne Roberts, but the one Nicholson and Meyers attended was designed specifically for corporate attorneys and structured to highlight the plight of children in the Oklahoma County court system.
“Corporate attorneys have no way of understanding what so many children are up against in court,” Roberts says. “For them to sit there and watch the situation was just appalling.”
The children Meyers saw that day opened his eyes to a flawed system.
“We saw a bunch of young faces,” he recalls, “children that had been ripped out of their homes—most of the time in their best interest—but these were terrified kids. They needed somebody representing them who could spend more time with them than the attorneys in the public defender’s office—terrific, dedicated folks who have more cases than they can possibly handle—could. We had to do something to help these kids.”
Roberts likes to call the tours “a field trip for adults to highlight child suffering and motivate action,” and in Meyers’ case, that’s exactly what it did.
“When Don and I sat down at the end of the day, we were aghast at what we’d seen,” says Meyers, 69, who has six children of his own. “I said, ‘Let’s do what we do best. Let’s not just sit around and talk about the big picture. Let’s get our hands dirty. Let’s try cases, represent these kids in these proceedings.’”
They decided to name their organization Oklahoma Lawyers for Children. “We went out and got the public defender’s office to agree to what we were going to do, and then Don and I each agreed we’d try to recruit 20 lawyers to help us. In the first month we each recruited 40.”
And it’s only gotten bigger. Meyers, who himself has tried seven cases to jury for the organization, reports that today more than 400 attorneys and 150 laypeople volunteer for Lawyers for Children to handle cases pro bono and help children navigate all aspects of the juvenile county court system.
Representing children in distress has “heightened my awareness of how kids are cared for or not cared for,” Meyers says. He has seen horrible cases of child abuse and neglect, but he has also witnessed incredible change in the lives of children and their families.
“I’m the eternal ‘The glass is half full’ kind of person,” Meyers says. “I really think bad people are in the minority and most parents do the best they can.”
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