Even the Law Does Not Escape Mother Nature

This aspect of the Katrina disaster is also going to affect the poor, especially black men and others in the judicial system. I had originally thought the ABA was collecting donations to help with this but they are donating the money to the Red Cross and Salvation Army. They are setting up offices for legal assistance, by phone or pro bono. They are looking for lawyers, law students, office space and equipment: www.abanet.org/katrina/

From: Paul Moxley

Here is an email from a Professor at a law school in New Orleans which describes the problems there. This is the first city since the Civil War to be evacuated.

The author is Professor Michelle Ghetti, Southern University Law Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Her message, which was originally posted on an evidence professors’ discussion board at Chicago Kent Law School, has been widely circulated, because it is so powerful.

Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 6:27 AM; To: Norman M. Garland; ‘John Barkai’; ‘Discussion forum for evidence law’; Subject: Devastated Lawyers Lives

I know your hearts, in particular, are for lawyers. Think of this… 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. [The lawyers] are scattered from Florida to Arizona and have nothing to return to…. 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….

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’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?

Professor Michelle Ghetti
Southern University Law Center
Baton Rouge, LA 70813


One would hope lawyers who live in a place that is threatened by floods would not store paper evidence where it could get wet. Storage is expensive and offsite makes life much more difficult.

An additional issue is the looters getting legal representation. Seems like community service clean up would be appropriate sentencing…. The bodies would all be bagged by then but there will still be plenty of learning opportunities.

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2 Responses to Even the Law Does Not Escape Mother Nature

  1. Teresa says:

    That is fascinating, Ginny.

    Thank you so much. Really interesting.

  2. This is fascinating and it poses some serious problems. Keep us posted on this Ginny, if you hear more.