New Orleans Lawyers:

The human toll of the hurricane is almost too much for me to even contemplate. But just think about one small bit of it--the effect on New Orleans lawyers and the legal system. Consider this email today from a New Orleans lawyer. I hope that it won't turn out to be this bad, but it is astounding to contemplate to possible effect on the justice system:

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. [T]hey 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?

It is pretty amazing to think that not only are the files for many cases likely damaged beyond all repair, but unlike more focused disasters, the swath of destruction was broad enough to wreck the back-up files that lawyers and clients might keep in their own offices as well. And this presumably applies to medical files, financial records, etc., as well. Truly staggering.