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The following was written by Prof. Michelle Ghetti of the Southern
University Law Center in Baton Rouge:
5,000 - 6,000 lawyers (1/3 of the lawyers in Louisiana) have lost their
offices, their libraries, their computers with all information thereon, their
client files - possibly their clients, as one attorney who e-mailed me noted.
As I mentioned before, they are scattered from Florida to Arizona and have
nothing to return to. Their children's schools are gone and, optimistically,
the school systems in 8 parishes/counties won't be re-opened until after
December. They must re-locate their lives.
Our state supreme court is under some water - with all appellate files and
evidence folders/boxes along with it. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
building is under some water - with the same effect. Right now there may only
be 3-4 feet of standing water but, if you think about it, most files are kept
in the basements or lower floors of courthouses.
What effect will that have on the lives of citizens and lawyers throughout
this state and this area of the country? And on the law?
The city and district courts in as many as 8 parishes/counties are under
water, as well as 3 of our circuit courts - with evidence/files at each of
them ruined. The law enforcement offices in those areas are under water -
again, with evidence ruined. 6,000 prisoners in 2 prisons and one juvenile
facility are having to be securely relocated. We already have over-crowding at
most Louisiana prisons and juvenile facilities.
What effect will this have? And what happens when the evidence in their
cases has been destroyed? Will the guilty be released upon the communities?
Will the innocent not be able to prove their innocence?
Our state bar offices are under water. Our state disciplinary offices are
under water - again with evidence ruined. Of particular interest to you...our
state disciplinary offices are located on Veteran's Blvd. in Metairie. Those
of you who have been watching the news, they continue to show Veteran's Blvd.
It's the shot with the destroyed Target store and shopping center under water
and that looks like a long canal. Our Committee on Bar Admissions is located
there and would have been housing the bar exams which have been turned in from
the recent July bar exam (this is one time I'll pray the examiners were late
in turning them in- we were set to meet in 2 weeks to go over the results).
Will all of those new graduates have to retake the bar exam?
Two of the 4 law schools in Louisiana are located in New Orleans (Loyola
and Tulane - the 2 private ones that students have already paid about $8,000+
for this semester to attend). Another 1,000+ lawyers-to-be whose lives have
been detoured. I've contacted professors at both schools but they can't reach
anyone at those schools and don't know the amount of damage they've taken.
Certainly, at least, this semester is over. I'm trying to reach the
Chancellor's at Southern and LSU here in Baton Rouge to see if there's
anything we can do to take in the students and/or the professors. I think I
mentioned before, students from out of state have beens stranded at at least 2
of the other universities in New Orleans - they're moving up floor after floor
as the water rises. Our local news station received a call from some medical
students at Tulane Medical Center who were now on the 5th floor of the
dormitories as the water had risen. One of them had had a heart attack and
they had no medical supplies and couldn't reach anyone - 911 was busy, local
law enforcement couldn't be reached, they were going through the phone book
and reached a news station 90 miles away!! It took the station almost 45
minutes to finally find someone with FEMA to try to get in to them!!
And, then, there are the clients whose files are lost, whose cases are
stymied. Their lives, too, are derailed. Of course, the vast majority live in
the area and that's the least of their worries. But, the New Orleans firms
also have a large national and international client base.
For example, I received an e-mail from one attorney friend who I work with
on some crucial domestic violence (spousal and child) cases around the nation
- those clients could be seriously impacted by the loss, even temporarily, of
their attorney - and he can't get to them and is having difficulty contacting
the many courts around the nation where his cases are pending. Large corporate
clients may have their files blowing in the wind where the high rise buildings
had windows blown out.
I woke up this morning to the picture of Veteran's Blvd which made me think
of my students who just took the bar. My thoughts wandered from there to the
effect on the Disciplinary Offices and I thought of you.
Then my thoughts continued on. I'm sure I'm still missing a big part of the
future picture. It's just devastating. Can you imagine something of this
dimension in your state?