It may be old-fashioned, but it is a dream many people still hold: to start and run a family business. What could be more satisfying than earning a living while working closely with loved ones?
The answer, if you're a member of the Lewis family, is, just about anything.
Nine years ago the Lewises--mother, father, two brothers and, briefly, several sisters--began their own daycare center. "We saw that there was a real need for it, especially in Five Points, and a real potential to make good money," recalls Blaine Lewis, one of the brothers.
At first, Kid's Corner Day Care Center was successful beyond their dreams. The business quickly grew to include three buildings and, says Blaine, generated a quarter-million dollars in annual revenue. Over thirty children were enrolled.
Today, however, Kid's Corner is responsible for about as many children as you find in a mid-sized family. The business is a wreck. Although Blaine says it is bouncing back, only one building remains open.
Worse off than the daycare center are the Lewises themselves: The family business has shattered the family. In recent years, assorted members of the Lewis clan have crowded the courts with dozens of legal maneuvers directed against one relative or another. As a direct result of the various court actions, two Lewises have declared themselves bankrupt.
Doing business together has taken a huge personal toll as well. Mother and father--Doris and Sherron Lewis Sr.--have divorced after three decades of marriage. The Lewis sons, Blaine and Sherron Jr., are estranged from the rest of their family. They are even more estranged from each other. After trading assault charges over several incidents, for a brief period earlier this year both Blaine and Sherron Jr. held restraining orders against each other.
"We got along as kids. But it's one of those things where you look back and say, 'Maybe things weren't as good as you thought,'" says Blaine.
"This is about greed," says Sherron Jr.
"If you put my name in your paper in connection with Kid's Corner Day Care Center or with my former husband or sons, I will sue your pants off," says Doris.
Sherron Sr. could not be reached for an interview, and Sherron Jr. declined extensive comment. Yet the numerous court documents racked up by the Lewises amply dissect the anatomy of a family disaster.
February 9, 1988: Articles of Incorporation filed with the Colorado Secretary of State's office list Doris and Sherron Lewis Sr. and a daughter, Bridgid Lewis, as the board of directors for Kid's Corner Day Care Center. Blaine Lewis, the couple's second son, is treasurer. As Blaine explains it, his father, a career Air Force man stationed in Colorado Springs, had always wanted to start his own company--a business that would also pull his family together.
Kid's Corner begins caring for children at 2605 York Street, in a building Sherron Sr. and Doris had purchased several years earlier when one of their daughters went to college in Denver. Hoping to quickly expand, the couple also decides to buy the building next door, at 2601 York St.
1989: Kid's Corner is an immediate hit. With the center operating from 6 a.m. to midnight and plenty of parents paying the approximately $300-per-month tuition (many through welfare), the daycare center grosses $250,000 this year, according to Blaine.
Although up until this point the center has been run largely by Doris, the Lewis men determine the business might be even better off without her, as well as without the Lewis daughters, who had been helping out. In late 1989 Sherron Sr., Blaine and Sherron Jr. decide to purchase a third building for the booming daycare center--but this time, they leave Doris out of the project. The Lewis men begin to acquire 2551 York Street.
January 1990: Doris catches on and isn't happy. Although "Doris L. Lewis operated the business without [Blaine, Dad and Junior's] involvement through January 1990," according to subsequent court filings, Doris claims the three men "entered into a conspiracy to seize control of Kid's Corner, Inc. and ultimately did seize control of Kid's Corner by illegal means."
March 28, 1990: The three men file a new corporate report for Kid's Corner. It lists a fresh board of directors: Sherron Sr., Sherron Jr. and Blaine Lewis. Blaine, who claims his mom had been dipping into the till, concedes that the men orchestrated the coup without Doris's knowledge. In fact, he says, they informed her that she'd been removed from the board of directors by registered mail.
March 30, 1990: Having legally erased Doris from the daycare center, Sherron Sr., Sherron Jr. and Blaine set about removing her physically. They file for a temporary restraining order preventing her from going to the daycare center or to Sherron Sr. and Doris's Colorado Springs residence. In arguing for the restraining order, Sherron Sr. suggests that his wife has taken funds from the center and that he is fearful of "any inappropriate behavior which might be construed as a civil disturbance."
May 12, 1990: The Lewis men complete their first joint land deal. Blaine, along with Sherrons junior and senior, signs on the dotted line to purchase 2551 York Street. Sherron Sr. puts up the cash.
July 20, 1990: The Lewis men form a new corporation, Tokyomachi Companies, Inc., whose purpose is to renovate and rent buildings. Why Tokyomachi? "We were hoping the Japanese name would give us credibility," Blaine explains.
August 1990: Sherron Sr. demonstrates his commitment to his new partners by turning over one-third interest in 2551 York to each of his two sons. According to the agreement, Sherron Jr. and Blaine will bring no money to the deal; however, they agree to provide the labor for renovations to the new building.
Early 1991: When the owner of a nearby duplex, at 2537 York Street, expresses interest in selling, Sherron Sr., Sherron Jr. and Blaine agree to a long-term lease with an option to buy. Needing a place to live, Sherron Jr. and his family move into one half of the building.
March 20, 1991: Doris sues her husband and sons. In her lawsuit, she notes that she remains half-owner of the Kid's Corner buildings and charges that her sons illegally conspired to boot her out of the family daycare business.
April 4, 1991: Blaine answers his mother's lawsuit, claiming it is frivolous. By way of example, he notes that in her court filings she has misspelled his name. "Logic would cause any trier of fact to believe the plaintiff would know how to spell her own son's name," he observes.
May 1991: When Kid's Corner reapplies for its state license, the Colorado Department of Social Services issues only a temporary permit. Apparently the disarray in the Lewis family is spilling over into the daycare center. In the preceding year, social services inspectors have documented 125 violations of various codes dating from April 1990. Many of the violations are minor, however, and the Lewises seem sincerely interested in correcting them.
But in June, Lisa McPhail, who had been hired six months earlier to direct the daycare center, sues Sherron Sr., Blaine and Sherron Jr. She alleges, among other things, that Kid's Corner didn't come close to meeting the minimum child-care standards required by the state in "such areas as food and nutritionEdisciplineEfeeding of infants and toddlersEpersonal hygieneEand an entire array of additional problem areas which shall be defined at time of trial."
July 23, 1991: Doris Lewis's lawsuit against her husband and two sons is dismissed a week before trial. According to legal correspondence, the family dispute "has been resolved."
September 6, 1991: Although the relationship between Doris and her husband and sons appears to be on the mend, the family's legal journey is just starting. Blaine and Sherron Sr. file a lawsuit against Sherron Jr., claiming that he didn't keep his end of the bargain to help with the renovation work at 2551 York (see August 1990). They demand the return of his one-third interest in the building.
September 13, 1991: Sherron Jr. allegedly telephones his father at his Colorado Springs home and, during the ensuing conversation, reportedly says, "I'm going to kick your ass," or words to that effect. Sherron Sr. calls the police and charges his son with making threats and creating a disturbance by telephone.
October 15, 1991: Sherron Jr. continues to fight back, literally, by allegedly confronting Blaine in an alley behind the daycare center. Although the brothers had once been close--before this, they had teamed up on several business ventures, including music production and moving and storage companies--Blaine and Sherron Jr. now have their differences. According to the police report, at around seven o'clock that evening, "the suspect Sherron Lewis Jr. took the victim's flashlight from him and started striking him up side his head." Blaine receives thirty stitches and files an assault charge against his brother.
October 16, 1991: The day after the confrontation, Blaine requests, and receives, a temporary restraining order against his brother, which states that Sherron Jr. may not approach Blaine or the daycare center. It is later converted into a permanent restraining order.
October 22, 1991: Increasingly impatient with Sherron Jr., Blaine and Sherron Sr. file another lawsuit in county court, seeking to have Sherron Jr. evicted from the 2537 York Street duplex where he is living.
November 13, 1991: The judge rules in favor of Sherron Jr., and he is allowed to stay in the duplex. Sherron Sr. and Blaine try again. In a separate lawsuit they claim that Sherron Jr. hasn't kept his share of the bargain to help renovate the duplex and thus owes them more than $4,000 in back rent. In court, however, Sherron Jr. unveils a tape recording in which the three men are heard agreeing to let him live in the duplex for a year. The case is dismissed.
March 20, 1992: Sherron Sr. and Blaine lose another round to Sherron Jr. when a judge denies their legal request for his one-third interest in the 2551 York Street building (see September 6, 1991). In fact, the judge seems to blame Sherron Sr. for the trouble he is having with his namesake. Noting that at the time Sherron Sr. conveyed the one-third interest in the property to Sherron Jr. it was already clear his son wasn't doing much work around the place, the judge determines that the "father was himself partly responsible for the situation he now finds himself in."
June 3, 1992: Sherron Sr. concedes he is unable to produce the relevant telephone records, so his case of criminal telephone harassment against Sherron Jr. (see September 13, 1991) is dismissed.
July 1, 1992: After several attempts at professional and personal reconciliation, Doris and Sherron Lewis Sr. finally call it quits; they are divorced after more than three decades of marriage. According to the settlement, Sherron Sr. gets the daycare-business buildings in Denver, and she keeps the personal residence in Colorado Springs.
July 30, 1992: Blaine's assault case against his brother (see October 15, 1991) goes to trial--and results in yet another victory for Sherron Jr. The disturbing-the-peace charge is dismissed by the judge, and the jury finds Sherron Jr. not guilty in the flashlight assault.
November 20, 1992: Sherron Jr. files for protection under Chapter 7 of federal bankruptcy code. Although he lists various debts, Lisa McPhail's lawyer says he thinks the move was calculated to protect Sherron Jr. from McPhail's lawsuit against Kid's Corner (see May 1991).
May 17, 1993: Sherron Jr., citing his victory in the two criminal cases that Blaine (see October 15, 1991, and July 30, 1992) and his father (see September 13, 1991, and June 3, 1992) have brought against him, as well as their two failed civil lawsuits (see September 6, 1991 and November 13, 1991), takes the offensive. In a new lawsuit, he claims that Blaine and Sherron Sr. were prosecuting him "maliciously." His brother and father quickly countersue, pointing out--again--that Sherron Jr. owes them a boodle of back rent.
October 29, 1993: "Certainly I don't want to deal with [Sherron Jr.], because he's trying to kill me," says Blaine (see October 15, 1991). As a result, Blaine and Sherron Sr. step up their efforts to reclaim Sherron Jr.'s one-third interest in 2551 York Street. In a stroke of retaliatory genius, the two men remember that Sherron Jr. once occupied a suite in downtown's Alamo Plaza and that he left it owing $5,500 in back rent. Blaine and Sherron Sr. apply to the owners of Alamo Plaza to purchase the $5,500 judgment. Having had no luck in collecting it themselves, the owners agree to sell it for a mere $850.
May 17, 1994: The back-door maneuver pays off. With the Alamo Plaza judgment in hand, Blaine and Sherron Sr. file a "motion of levy" against Sherron Jr.'s one-third ownership of 2551 York Street. At a subsequent foreclosure sale, they at last reclaim Sherron Jr.'s interest in the property.
June 20, 1994: Win some, lose some--a jury agrees that Sherron Sr. and Blaine did prosecute Sherron Jr. maliciously (see May 17, 1993). Sherron Jr. is awarded $13,000--$7,800 to come from his father, the rest from Blaine. He also wins $1 in exemplary damages. At the same time, however, the jury agrees that Sherron Jr. still owes rent to Blaine and his father and instructs him to pay them $2,667.
June 29, 1994: In a letter to the court, Sherron Jr.'s attorney complains that awarding $1 in exemplary damages makes a mockery of the system (it also happens to cut down considerably on her contingency fee). Sherron Sr. and Blaine, she reminds the court, "knowingly used, with absolutely no regard for anyone other than themselves, the monstrously over-burdened Colorado judicial system, including three different courts, four different county court judges, three different county court prosecutors, two county court public defenders, one district court, one district court judge, and two private attorneys." Her motion to overturn the dollar award is denied.
March 1995: With the Lewises at each other's throats, legally and--allegedly--literally, and with attorneys' fees and verdicts mounting, Kid's Corner Day Care Center is showing additional signs of neglect. In response to a parent's complaint that the center's electricity has been cut off, an inspection reveals that only one of the two buildings is currently in operation. And instead of the thirty-odd children Kid's Corner once watched over, a state child-care worker counts only six toddlers on the premises.
April 19, 1995: Blaine, who has decided to run against Hiawatha Davis for the District 8 seat on Denver's City Council, receives the endorsement of the Denver Post. "A small business owner himself, Lewis would work with local companies to re-energize North Denver's economy," the Post editorial concludes. Two weeks later, Davis wins; Blaine comes in second.
May 18, 1995: The family's various legal battles are taking their toll financially on Sherron Sr. Straining under a cash crunch, he cannot pay his various mortgages, and the bank calls its note on 2551 York Street. Meanwhile, having gained the upper hand, Sherron Jr. files a lien against all three of the Kid's Corner properties for the $7,800 his father owes him as part of the malicious-prosecution verdict (see June 20, 1994).
June 5, 1995: Sherron Lewis Sr. seeks protection from his creditors under Chapter 7 of federal bankruptcy laws.
October 3, 1995: Unable to scrape together mortgage payments, Sherron Sr. and Blaine lose 2551 York Street. It is sold back to the bank at a public auction.
November 27, 1995: With Sherron Sr. in bankruptcy and with the $13,000 judgment against his brother and father burning a hole in his pocket, Sherron Jr. expresses interest in laying claim to the Kid's Corner Day Care properties. But there is a problem: Blaine's restraining order (see October 16, 1991) prevents him from touring the buildings with potential investors. So Sherron Jr. asks a judge to modify the order.
December 8, 1995: A judge agrees to change the restraining order. Sherron Jr. may visit the daycare-center buildings--but only if Blaine isn't there.
December 14, 1995: Sherron Jr. enters 2551 York Street--through a second-story window. As he breaks into the building, he steps on a bed of nails covered by a blanket, puncturing his foot. He calls police and informs them he wants to file an assault charge against his brother, Blaine, who he claims placed the nails there in response to the lifting of the restraining order.
Having received a phone call from his girlfriend that police are at the daycare center, Blaine leaves his night security job and drives to 2551 York, where he is arrested for assaulting his brother with a bed of nails. In response, he requests that charges be filed against Sherron Jr. for violating the restraining order.
December 20, 1995: Doris Lewis has reappeared to cash in on Sherron Sr.'s financial distress. Now living in Aurora and aware of her former husband's bankruptcy, on December 4 Doris had filed a claim with the bankruptcy court insisting that she was still one-half owner of 2605 York Street and offering to buy the building from Sherron Sr.'s bankruptcy trustee for $1,500. The trustee tentatively agreed.
Two weeks later, however, Sherron Sr.'s attorney objects. Citing the Lewises' divorce agreement (see July 1, 1992), he contends that Sherron Sr. is the sole owner and that Doris has no claim on the daycare center. Moreover, the lawyer adds, he himself will offer at least $200 over Doris's bid to reclaim 2605 York Street.
December 21, 1995: Sherron Jr. also objects to his mother's proposal to reclaim 2605 York Street; specifically, he thinks he would be the better owner. In a letter to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Sherron Jr. reminds the judge that he owns a lien against the building (see June 20, 1994, and May 18, 1995). Besides, he adds, he "would bid and pay a materially greater amount for said property" if the trustee would reopen the bidding for the building.
January 12, 1996: Investor Sedrick T. Devers acquires 2551 York Street; according to Blaine, he is aligned with Sherron Jr. Meanwhile, Sherron Jr. again moves against his brother. Citing the nail assault (see December 14, 1995), he requests a temporary restraining order against Blaine. The judge issues it. The order requires that Blaine stay 125 yards from the daycare center, as well as from 2601 York Street--which, unfortunately, is also Blaine's current residence.
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In the ensuing weeks, Blaine says, he sneaks into the daycare center building early in the morning to set things up for the teachers; he lives at his girlfriend's house.
February 21, 1996: Finding no evidence that Blaine set up the bed of nails in order to trap his brother, the judge rules against Sherron Jr.'s request to make the temporary restraining order against his brother permanent. The temporary restraining order is lifted.
April 29, 1996: A jury trial is scheduled to determine whether Sherron Jr. violated the restraining order held by his brother, Blaine (see October 16, 1991).
"I feel that I've kind of been caught up in the legal system," says Blaine Lewis. "People don't seem to take it seriously when it's family involved. To me, though, it's even more serious.