LSC Disaster Task Force Report Release: Panel: “Continuity of Operations Planning and the Courts.”

LSC Disaster Task Force Report Release: Panel: “Continuity of Operations Planning and the Courts.”


[MUSIC PLAYING] Good morning, everyone. My name is Father Pius Pietrzyk. I am the vice chairman of the
board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation. It’s wonderful to be back in
New Orleans and Louisiana, in many ways, the sort of
genesis of this disaster task force. I’m here with a
panel, and we’re going to be discussing Continuative
Operations Planning. At LSU, we don’t like acronyms. But we’ll call it
COOP, because everybody calls it COOP planning. So we’ll just use that
little acronym for this. And I am here with a number
of participants, judges, all of whom who have been
involved with disaster work and disaster recovery,
either on the bench, or at least within
the legal system. I’m going to start
on my right to give Judge Douglas a little time. Judge Douglas had
a late appointment. She’s going to be here, but she
might be a few minutes late. So I will start with Justice
Weimer, who has, in fact, got a chair right behind us. But we’re glad you’re up
at the table here with us. Justice Weimer is,
as you can tell, a member of the Louisiana
Supreme Court here, so one of our local judges. Next to him to my
immediate right is one of the co-chairs
of our task force, is Judge Jonathan Lippman,
the former Chief Judge of the New York
Court of Appeals, now of counsel at Latham & Watkins. Again, one of the great
supporters of our firm. And Judge Lippman has been
an extraordinary co-chair for this task force. To my immediate left,
one of the great friends of the Legal Services
Corporation, the Chief Justice of the
Texas Supreme Court, Nathan Hecht, who
has seen, of course, his share of disaster
down in Texas. And we’re delighted for
him to be with us here. And I think perhaps our
newest judge, I think, is Judge Dana Douglas,
who recently appointed, fairly recently, to the– and our token federal judge– to the Eastern
District of Louisiana– the Eastern District Court. And again, Judge Douglas will
be with us in a few minutes. And we know, Justice Weimer,
you have to leave probably about halfway through. So we’ll make sure we get
some good questions to you before we get to that. We are here in Louisiana. And I always also recall
our meeting in Nashville. Unfortunately,
this past few days, the occasion of a terrible
tornado that’s caused great damage. And the slogan, the motto, for
the Supreme Court of Tennessee is [SPEAKING LATIN],, which
I have always thought is a wonderful slogan
for our task force. It’s a Latin phrase that means,
“let justice be done, though the heavens fall,”
which I always think should be the
motto for our task force, and always a reminder
for us as well. When we think about disaster
relief and recovery, we rightly think first of
those who are impacted, have lost their
homes, especially those who have lost their
lives or injure or in distress. But in the recovery
period and the restoration of normality in life, the
functioning of a court system is something we have to
pay attention to as well– how the courts allow
and are the vehicles for the return to the
normal life for people to sort out all of the
difficulties that occur. And an essential part
of that is the planning that the courts
themselves have to do. What are we going to do
when there is a disaster? How do we plan for it? And so one of the items of
our Disaster Task Force Report is to discuss that
COOP planning, not only for legal
services entities, but for the courts themselves. And so we are going to be
talking to our panelists here today. We’re also being live-streamed
on a little camera over there, so hopefully to our
friends out there in the world of the Interwebs
who will be watching us for the next few minutes. And so first I’ll begin just
with a question for all of you. You all have been
involved in disasters in one way or another. How did these disasters
impact your court systems? What lessons did
you learn from it? And I’ll turn first
to Judge Weimer. I see you’ve brought props. I love props. So I’ll ask you, Justice Weimer,
about your own experience here in Louisiana. Thank you, Father. First, let me join the
chorus of welcomes. Welcome to Louisiana. Welcome to New Orleans. And welcome to the Supreme
Court building of Louisiana named for Pascal Calogero, who
was instrumental in revising and revitalizing this
building after it been abandoned for many years. We actually returned to
this building in 2004, a year before Katrina hit. It’s, of course, located in the
heart of the French Quarter. Before then– if I may
begin with a little story– in August of 2005, August
29, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in
Louisiana and struck the New Orleans area, this
area, Southeast Louisiana and Mississippi, and all
the way out to Alabama. Over 1,800 people
lost their lives. And New Orleans
in a lot of areas flooded, as Judy
mentioned, to its rooftops. A US Army General, Russel
Honoré, a no-nonsense, tough-talking individual who
the mayor at the time referred to as a John Wayne dude, said
that Katrina deployed a perfect strategy. It attacked by sea and by air. It came in from
every angle, knocked out communications
and supply lines, and caused catastrophic damages. And then one month– and this
is not often remembered– but one month later Rita
came across Louisiana, and we learned a new term– slabbed. People referred to their
homes and their businesses as being reduced to just a slab. Sometime in the
aftermath of Katrina– and Judy referenced St.
Bernard Parish, and also this Plaquemines Parish,
where these areas outside of New Orleans
received terrible damage– the judges actually stayed
in the courthouse there. And it became a
shelter of last resort for people that were leaving
in the middle of the storm to find shelter. They were being moved
from their rooftops and wherever they had
accumulated, and brought to the ferry landing
right across from here– right across the
Mississippi River from here. And I got together with a group
of fellow volunteer firemen from my hometown
community of Thibodaux, a little small town just
about 60 miles outside of New Orleans. And we got together
by begging, borrowing, and we didn’t do any
stealing, Father. There was a term
called commandeering, but we didn’t do
any of that either, to bring food and water
and other necessities to these poor souls. When I got to the
first roadblock that was manned by some National
Guardsmen who were armed, I presented my credentials
as a Supreme Court Justice. And I could tell
they were perplexed. And so I said, I’m Justice
John Weimer, with the Louisiana Supreme Court. And one of them
said, Justin who? I said, no, I’m not Justin. I’m a justice. I’m a judge. Well, they went from
perplexed to baffled. And they looked up, and then
they saw that I was wearing– and I still have it– a Thibodaux Volunteer
Fireman’s T-shirt. And one of them said,
hey, bro, you a fireman? And I said, as a
matter of fact, I am. And he said, well, I don’t
know about all these papers, but you’re welcome to come
in if you’re a fireman. Well, the quick
moral of that story is this, because we always have
to have a moral to a story, right Father? I had planned ahead. My credentials as a
Supreme Court Justice had served me well
up until that point, getting through roadblocks. But I learned that
you need redundancies. That’s so critically important. I learned that you have to
be flexible and improvise. And I learned that next
time, and hopefully there’s not a next time, I’ll bring
my credentials and my T-shirt. And I don’t know if you
want me to go on, or yield to the other justices and
judge at this time, Father? We’ll go around, and
then we’ll come back to you for the next
question as well. You know, when you–
even with a hurricane, sometimes you often have
a bit of advance notice, maybe a couple of days
or a couple of hours. But when you have a
man-made disaster, like a terrorist attack, which
there’s no notice, and then it really cripples
the whole city, that’s something that’s
just impossible to prepare for in the moment. Judge Lippman, we
think about disasters, we think of natural disasters. But there are
man-made ones as well. Oh, without question. And I’ve lived it,
and we all know the father is
talking about 9/11, and what a traumatic
event for New York, for the country,
and in particular, for the justice
system and the courts. The impact was devastating. We actually had courthouses
destroyed, literally destroyed; court offices, employees
of the court system killed. I mean, I literally
can tell you, and it’s hard to even talk about
it, of walking in the ashes under the World Trade Center,
looking for the last time when our court
officials were seen. And what the first
responders and the firepeople and the police
would do, they’d put on the pillars that were
left the name of the officer, and the time that
they were seen, and the date the last
time they were seen, and going through that. And such a traumatic thing
having our center of operations unavailable. We were actually
holding meetings to try and get the
command structure in line outside the area
where our courts were located, because we had to go to a place
where everyone could get to. And it was just
unbelievably traumatic. Arraignments– what do you do
in the middle of this thing with lockdown zones and
places apropo with– you just can’t get into. And how do you arraign people? The business of the people has
to go on, and public safety. We had so many people– volunteers, people–
and Judy, you know– we sometimes fight
a battle in terms of the public image of lawyers. We had lawyers around
the block and the block and the block of
the Bar Association volunteering to help people. But how you kind of bring them
together and coordinate it and make it something that’s
going to work and take all those good intentions– I remember, in those
days, we really hadn’t trained
people in advance. So it was a
combination– on the fly, figure out what to do
with all these good will and good intentions,
and how to mobilize lawyers and their efforts. And documents destroyed–
you couldn’t even– the courts couldn’t figure
out what to do with the cases. We didn’t have
the documents that told us as to what
those cases were about, where they were on the
calendar, when the note of issue was fired, all these
kinds of things. So what it taught us? It taught us things that
we’ve all learned since then, and trying this report
is so much all about. And that’s why I was
so pleased to be asked to co-chair this with the
Father and Martha Minow, because we’ve lived it. This isn’t something
abstract or something to, gee, what should we do? And the lessons are so clear,
and planning in advance. And we did in New York, being
a big system that we had, we did do some planning,
but not nearly enough to reflect that, as Father Pius
says, overnight or that minute, figuring out what to do. And by Hurricane Sandy, we had– we were much, much
better prepared because of the COOP planning. Continuity of operations just
rings out to me so vibrantly. Remember, how are we going
to keep the courts going with everything’s going
on, having a plan in place to make that happen. Chain of command– how you
give out even instructions to what to do if you have
the authority to do it. How do you convey that? Communication with the public– well, what do we do? We have a case. It was going to be
on in so-on-so date. Or I want to file a case. Or I was in the
middle of a trial. What do you do, and how do you
communicate that to people? And I guess the major
lesson that we all learned from these
things, whether it’s 9/11 or any other
storm or hurricane or natural event
is collaboration, and the knowledge that we in
the courts are not in a vacuum, separate from the public,
the world around us. And we’ve learned very
much how to– that we all have to have
seats at the table. And I think that sticks
with us to this day, and that we’re all
a community that want the same thing,
in our world at least, dealing with this
abstract idea of justice, and how you make it concrete
and real in the midst of chaos. So lots of lessons
that we’ve learned. And again, I think this report
highlights so many of them. It’s a reminder that
these disasters are not limited to the
Gulf Coast states, but every state in the
union has to consider these. And Texas is a big
state, and it’s got a lot of big disasters,
unfortunately, as well. But I think Texas
is, in many ways, has a reputation for
its ability to handle a lot of these disasters, partly
because, unfortunately, you’ve had so many. So what’s been your most
recent disaster, and how have the courts dealt with that? The most recent one
was Hurricane Harvey. And as Rob was saying earlier,
there’s no typical disaster. And as Justice
Weimer was saying, you really do have
to be flexible, and you have to have
the planning in place to assist the response to it. But it’s always going
to be different. So when Harvey hit, it was a–
it seemed like a typical storm. And it hit just east
of Corpus Christi, and it barely nicked
Corpus Christi. But it destroyed the courthouses
in the little counties just to the east. And I mean flattened
them, so that they just could not physically
operate in those structures. As father says,
Texas is a big state. And so it was very
important to us in the 19th century that
courts meet in the county seat at the building
that’s designated, and not meet out somewhere
else where it’s hard to get to. Nowadays, of course, you
can get around more easily. But we had not ever
had to anticipate that courts could just not meet
at all in a particular county. They were going to have to
go to some other jurisdiction to meet. And so we had to
adjust procedures for assigning courts,
changing their jurisdiction, and trying to make
it possible just to get the people that needed
to be there for arraignments, for criminal cases,
for all sorts of– for landlord-tenant
cases, for all sorts of things, just to be able
to get to the courthouse. Then when it hit Houston,
it rained 60 inches in a little less than two days. And if you know
Houston, Houston has trouble with a quarter
of an inch rainfall. And it struggles with that. So 60 inches is a
lot, and flooded all of the main
thoroughfares, and made it virtually impossible
to get around just at all. But again, it’s very
difficult to prepare for all of the contingencies. So the Lone Star Legal Aid,
its main office in Houston is right downtown. And downtown Houston
flooded, so its office flooded, which was
to be expected. But the electric service
was in the basement. And so it short-circuited
and burned the building down. So Lone Star has the distinction
of having its building burned in a flood. And– It sounds like all they’ve
got left is pestilence. And so just how do–
the lawyers were wanting to come in and help,
but they had no place to go. So I’ll always be grateful
to Latham & Watkins and two or three other firms
in Houston that opened their offices
to legal aid lawyers, and let them come
in and work there. It was a little hard getting
them to leave those offices and go back. But it was a great
thing while it lasted. I never– the storm
hit in the night. And the first thing
the next morning, about 9:00 or 10:00
o’clock in the morning, I got a call from Chief Justice
Jeff Bivins in Tennessee saying the lawyers here want to
help, and several have called. What’s the best way
that we can help? So we were trying
to give suggestions for how that could happen. But the next call I
got was, literally, was Chief Judge Janet
DiFiore of New York who said the same thing. So it’s really heartening
that people want to help. Our State Bar wanted to help. So we did what we’d
done in the past, which was allow out-of-state
lawyers who are not licensed in Texas to
represent people in connection with the disaster. And sometimes the local bar can
feel sort of proprietary about that, but not when you’re– Sometimes. Yeah. But not when you’re
struggling with something of that magnitude. So the lawyers
really turned to– in Texas, and then
out-of-state as well. And then I’ll just say
that technologically, the courts in Texas are
pretty strong for courts. And we have electronic
filing and access to dockets off-site and
centrally, and it’s redundant. And the data is stored
in different places to try to prevent
destruction in a disaster. So all of that was in place. We had not dealt
with the problem that if the courts are– if the court technology
is up and running, what about the lawyers? What about the
lawyer who can’t get to his office, her office,
the computers out there? Then what do– how do
we accommodate them? So we have the ability in
Texas to change the law. The court can suspend the
statute of limitations, can suspend deadlines,
can ask that judges sit outside the
local courtrooms, and try to accommodate that. But we didn’t know– I don’t think we
fully appreciated how bad it could get until we
saw what happened in Houston. And then, of course, the
needs are just enormous. Lots of people are
hanging by a thread. They’re very close–
they live very close to the edge on good days. And so when something
like this comes along, it’s everything in
the world to them. And just trying to find a place
to stay, trying to keep jobs, trying to get kids
in school, just the– trying to get food,
just the ordinary kinds of things that you
don’t think much about become enormous problems,
along with the claims and the reconstruction
process and all of that for tens of
thousands of people. So it really is something
that we have to prepare for. Yeah, I think was MacArthur who
said, planning is essential, plans are useless. So it’s important
to plan, but you have to realize you can’t
hold too tightly to that plan, because at least in terms of the
battle scenario, the fog of war will destroy any plan. But the planning. you’ve gone through
helps to prepare you. And we’re excited to have
Judge Douglas with us, the newest judge on
our little panel here. Now, I’m not sure you’ve been
a judge quite long enough to be in a disaster, qua judge. But you certainly had
a role as a lawyer in dealing with
the legal system. I was talking to Dean
Landrieu last night. One of the things that
I never thought about, when you’ve got a disaster
in a place like New Orleans– now, maybe the neighboring
Lafayette isn’t so hard-hit, but half the cases in
the Lafayette courts are from lawyers in Louisiana. So you open up the Lafayette
courts, and you open– start tolling the statute
of limitations again, but no lawyer from
here can get there. So we often think that– we have
to realize that it’s not just the courts that are affected
and the personnel in the courts, but the ability even for the
lawyers to come to these courts and handle these issues
are sometimes affected. And sometimes the courts
have to think about, what do we do if we open
this up even a little too early for the lawyers? So to give you both the
practitioner and the judge’s perspective– you’ve had some
involvement being here in New Orleans as well in Katrina. So if you just want
to relate a little bit of your own
experience in disaster works and the legal system. Sure. I think in terms of the
most recent disaster, although it didn’t
impact us directly, just maybe about a month or two
ago, the city of New Orleans was under a cyber attack. And so all of the computers
in the local and New Orleans area for city government
were held for ransom or what have you. And so I spent a lot of time
talking to practitioners who would call into the
court and didn’t have access to documents, didn’t
even– couldn’t even figure out for the
life of them how they were going to get
a judgment circulated to other counsel in a
case to get it approved before the court,
or how they were going to go about
drafting pleadings and things of that nature. And so although it didn’t
impact us as a court directly, because our computer
system was not tied to theirs, we still had to sort of
be responsive to them to make sure we could
find ways to assist them in making sure that
justice happened as efficiently as possible. So that just sort
of gives a clue into what we discuss–
what they discussed earlier about these documents and
plans having to be breathing, flexible documents
that can sort of be responsive to the
different needs, not just of us as a court
system, but also of litigants that come before the court. And that, in turn, impacts
members of the community as well. It seems like– Katrina was 15 years
ago, which seems sort of like a lifetime
ago, but not really. And we were discussing
this in our conversations in preparation for this call. Although we have all
these mobile devices now, and everybody’s
using text messaging and everything is in
a cloud, although it seems hard to
believe, those things didn’t really
exist 15 years ago. So at that time I was on
the practitioner side. And I can recall– I was telling them I had just
purchased my house in 2003. And my mom was still working
for Orleans Parish Court, where not only do they handle
civil litigation, but they also handle
the foreclosures and different things like
that for real estate property. And my mom’s boss at the time
was sort of in charge of that. So I had a lot of knowledge
about city property and things that were going on here. And I was really excited because
here I am, a young lawyer. I had just purchased my house. And I went in and
I was like, look. Look what I have. And he’s like, congratulations. If New Orleans was a bowl,
you just purchased a house at the bottom of the bowl. And so all of my excitement
sort of drained for a second. And I was like, OK. So two years later,
what he said came true. Because Katrina came. We left on a Friday. We have family
closer to Lafayette, so we drove to Opelousas with
a little bag and some shorts or whatever for
the weekend– it’s August– thinking that we
were going to be there maybe till Monday or
Tuesday, and ended up being there until November. And just as he said, my house– my two-story house
took water– took five feet of water
in the first floor, was pretty much demolished. And so we had to figure out– it took me I think maybe a
week or two before I realized that even though I
couldn’t use my cell phone, I could communicate with
someone through a text message. Sounds foreign now,
but we just did not know that we could communicate
in that way at that time. And so we had to learn a
lot about how to prepare for disasters from there. I recall my mom having
stories about how a lot of the documents
for civil district court and operations being held
in the were in the basement at the time I think. And so a lot of that
stuff had to be– had to figure out a
way to recreate things from that source as well. And so it gave me
a lot of background about things that
we needed to keep in mind for the continuity of
operations for court systems and things of that nature. But luckily enough, we
were able to move over to the Western District
of Louisiana in Lafayette and sort of work from
there as best we could. But since then we’ve
learned, and with the growth of cloud technology, we’ve
been able to make sure that all of our
documents and resources were not in one
concentrated place, so that if something ever does
happen here in New Orleans, we have some other
place that things are stored that we can sort
of pull on as a resource. Thank you. And maybe we can go
a little bit more into some of the
detail with regards to preparing court
systems for disasters. And I’ll deal with the two
state justices with me here. Especially since
Katrina, I would say, I think most states are
much better prepared now to deal with disaster, one,
because of the experience. But second, as we’ve
mentioned, technology has made that, I
think, somewhat easier. What– let’s start with
you, Justice Weimer. Here in Louisiana, how would
you judge the preparedness of the Louisiana courts with
regards to the next disaster? And perhaps we even
have another one on the horizon with this
pandemic of the coronavirus. Is that something
that you all are prepared to deal
with, you think? Yes, Father, I believe we are. Good. Right answer. And the reason is,
you’ve read our report and implemented all of
its recommendations. Not just yet. The– I was at a
function yesterday where the governor spoke
of implementing some plans. And we have already
issued some plans in a prior situation where
there was a terrible flu about. And we are going to go
ahead and reissue those within the next day or so. But I believe we are prepared. And let me just
touch on, if I may, some of the things
that I think are important that we
have implemented. One is make sure– it so data-driven in the
court systems and the justice systems. You need to make sure that your
data is in secure locations and is all backed up. And these are all redundancies. We have our computer
systems backed up in Shreveport, which is all
the way across Louisiana in the northern
part of the state. Some people suggest Shreveport
is part of Texas actually. But that’s not true. But they are a very
viable part of the state. And that’s where we
have things backed up, so five hours away from here. We also have a
working relationship with the court of
appeal in Baton Rouge– the First Circuit
Court of Appeal. We could go there if necessary. And we have things set up
to reimplement our system from there if necessary. And that’s what we
did after Katrina. Then we just showed up. Now, we know what happens– when
things happen in New Orleans, that we are able to
relocate to Baton Rouge. The other few
things are you have to have an emergency
contact information for all of your employees, and develop
a communications system that is so vital to get– the courts can’t operate
without their employees, obviously, and so how to
get in touch with everyone for these disasters. We have numbers where they
can call from anywhere, where we can reconnect
with our employees. You’ve put in a plan– in place a plan. And then you rehearse that plan,
and you build in redundancies. And you know how to
reassemble your staff and your key employees. We have the COOP plan,
as everyone does. And annually, it’s
reevaluated, revised. Employees come and go, so you
change all of those contact information– all the
contact information and all, and who’s in charge, and
what’s the order of contact. So we have that all in place. As indicated by the
judge and others, cell phones were practically
useless during Katrina, but text messaging did work. But you never know. As Judge Honoré said– I mean, General Honoré said,
knocking out the communications system blinds us all. So you have to have
redundancies there. A lot of Katrina, it was Pony
Express, we referred to it. You literally had to go to
a place to talk to somebody, and then convey the message. And that, unfortunately,
happened often. But you know, hopefully
we’re in better shape now. Things like payroll
and paying vendors is critically important. And another need,
often, is how to house key employees and their family. We actually have
arrangements with hotels here in New Orleans,
that if necessary, we can locate the employees. But they’re not
going to go anywhere without their families. And so you also have to
provide for them also. And the key is just to
plan, plan, plan, and build in redundancies, and be flexible
and innovative and creative. Because ultimately,
these plans will have to change because of the
next disaster that comes in. I have to, unfortunately,
excuse myself, as we indicated earlier. I have some adjudicative
functions also today. You’ve got your real
job to go back to. Well, this is part
of the real job, too. But I thank all of
the panel members, and it’s been very instructive. Some of the things
you said brought back some really disappointing
and sad memories, not only for the tragedy
suffered in New York, but the tragedy that
was suffered here also, just handling such simple
things as arraignments, or handling such simple things
as, unfortunately, parents continue to fight
over their children in the middle of
these disasters, and want to file
emergency writs. And trying to ensure that
our system of justice continues to operate. And the public takes for
granted that we’re always going to be there. Yes. [INAUDIBLE] Literally, yeah. I want to commend, in departing,
the Legal Services Corporation for being America’s
partner in equal justice, and to borrow a
phrase, if I may, and thank the Legal
Service Corporation for all that it does. I see Frank Nuener there. Frank was the president– had
the unfortunate experience of being the president of
the State Bar Association during Katrina, and did just
remarkable work at that time. We were able to put
together a trailer to house the indigent defenders
in St. Bernard Parish, which went a long way
to reestablishing our system of justice
in that small community. Thank you, all. And again, I apologize
for having to leave early. No. We understand. And thank you for your
participation here. [APPLAUSE] And thank you as well for the
hospitality of the Supreme Court of Louisiana. It’s a beautiful venue
for us to hold this panel. So thank you very much. We’re proud of
it, but we’re also proud to have you here today. Thank you. Thank you. [INAUDIBLE] Well, we mentioned Texas and
Shreveport– well, Louisiana. So we’ll turn to
you, Justice Hecht. In many ways, we were
influenced in the report by the actions of Texas in
its own disaster recovery. The Texas rule with regards to
out-of-state lawyers, I think, has become a model for
a lot of other states. But what’s been your– how prepared is Texas
for the next one, for the next hurricane or– Well, we hope we’re prepared. And Justice Weimer’s
remarks remind us that the devil is
in the details. So you think about employees
trying to get to work. But then you think about
employees trying to get home, and then what to do
with their families. And we think, well, we’ll
get emergency phone numbers for everybody. But then the phones don’t work. And that certainly
happened to us in Harvey. The cell phone service just
was gone in lots of places. And I think the
warning is always that you have to
keep working at it. Because these plans that we
put in place and structures that we hope will hold are
ultimately fairly fragile. So we, like everybody,
store data different places. And we try to store
it as far away from where we think there’s
going to be a threat, and in multiple places. But servers fail. And they fail unexpectedly. So our court, a couple of
years ago, the server in house went down. And we said, well,
that’s no problem. We’ll just go get the
backup up in Waco, and bring it down
and we’ll be going– and we’ll be online
again in four hours. Well, that server went down. And no connection, it just
so happened that both of them went down. Well, there was a third
one, but it was in Amarillo. So you had to go way
out there to get to it. And ultimately, it was fine. But those are the
kinds of contingencies that you have to kind of be
ready to constantly adjust to. And then the other
big thing that I don’t think we have worked
on as hard as we need to, and that is lawyers
want to help. They don’t know how. And so a lot of this is work
that they don’t usually do. And so yes, family frictions and
problems do get worse, sadly, in disasters. And lots of lawyers would be
willing to help with that, they just don’t do family law. And they wouldn’t know
the first thing about it. When people were filing
FEMA claims during Harvey, we needed lots and
lots of help with that. And lawyers throughout
Houston and elsewhere were volunteering to help. But they’d never seen a
FEMA claim in their life. And they didn’t
know what they were going to do when they
call up some administrator and say, what do I need to file? And an administrator
says, look, I’ve got thousands of
these on my desk. You need to go figure it
out, and don’t come back till you do. So– and that would be
a constant training, putting together materials
that can easily be accessed by lawyers and say, OK, this– I’ll go handle all of these
domestic violence cases that are coming up in a disaster. You just park me down
at the courthouse, and I really will help
with the prosecutors or whoever else is–
legal aid folks, or whoever else is involved. And then we mustn’t– we’ve got to be sure
that we’re doing all of this in cooperation
and collaboration with the government players. So we need to constantly
work with FEMA, I think, and law enforcement
and others who are going to be involved
in these disasters as well, to try to make
sure that we’re all on the same page, we’re
working toward the same end, and to smooth things over. Because delays in
claims like this, in getting back into homes, and
getting your kids in school– Paul Furrh at Lone
Star Legal Aid said one of the problems
they had in Harvey was that people with
children downtown would– because it’s all under water– would send the children
to relatives further out, out in the suburbs. But then when the relative
tries to take the children to school in the suburbs,
the school won’t let them in. Then they say– yeah. They say, you’ve got
to have some papers. You’ve got to have some reason
to put the kids in here. And the other problem,
which is perverse, is that that permission
is hard to get sometimes, because at least
the schools in Texas get paid on the average
daily attendance. And so if kids aren’t
going to school in Houston, and they’re going to
school out in the suburbs, that directly impacts the
budgets of the downtown school. So very complex
situation involving lots of different
motivations, and it’s not one that I would have anticipated. I would have just thought people
would have pulled together on that. But it’s that kind of
training for the unexpected that we need to
help lawyers with. Yeah. And I think you raised a good
point, that COOP planning can’t be done in a vacuum. It can’t be done in
a silo, that COOP planning has to be done in the
context of a whole community with regards to– especially
with regards to other players, and state, federal, and
even the local governments, and even private
enterprise as well. Judge Lippman, you
were a Chief Judge. You were a judge
during a disaster. A disaster hits,
what’s the first thing a judge should be doing
other than, obviously, taking care of his family
and the immediate needs? I think taking care
of his whole family. And that family includes
your professional family and your court colleagues. I think that first and
foremost, safety of– again, you have your
own personal issues. And I’ll tell a war
story in a second. But the safety of
litigants, of court staff, should be paramount
when these things hit. Sometimes we’re so
driven and focused on our docket or whatever. Now, what’s more important
than human lives? So to me, that’s the
first and foremost issue that we have to deal with. Getting the information
that the judge needs to make intelligent
decisions is so– you don’t know what’s
going on around you. You can’t decide
what should be done to help ensure the
safety of all the people who are depending on you. And I think getting the word
out to everybody, depending on your role, whether it be
the Chief Judge, or a rank and file judge in the
courtroom, getting the word out to others about what’s going on
inside the court is paramount. Because if we’re operating
in our own little world and no one else knows what’s
going on, it’s not helpful. It really isn’t. And when we talk
about these safety issues and understanding
what’s going on, being able to have your own life
and do what you have to do– and I tell this story along the
lines that you talked about, that when 9/11 hit, and
I’m running this gigantic organization and trying to
get to people and figure out what’s going on,
get the information, ensuring my safety, I can’t– my son is clerking
in the federal court in downtown Manhattan,
and I can’t find him. I can’t [INAUDIBLE]. So on the one hand,
you’re doing– do this, do that. Oh, let’s get that. Let’s go over here. And I could not find him. And not to get– you know,
the way these things are, there are so many
stories to be told. He walks out of the subway
down in downtown Manhattan, and sees people
throwing themselves out of the building of the
World Trade Center. And you’re hearing
these stories. And I don’t know what’s
happening, trying to find him. And finally– and I’m having the
secretary– again, [INAUDIBLE],, could you just keep
trying this number again? The cell phone coverage
was so difficult. And finally, I found
him with the cell phone, moving halfway up Manhattan
towards where he lived out of the zone, you know,
the World Trade Center. And what a relief. And then you can go
back to, OK, now let’s– But think of it. There are– this
responsibility that you have as a court
official, and as someone who is preserving
justice, and yet, there are things– so many things
that can distract you. And you can’t not be distracted. But by the same token,
finding that balance and being able to do it all
is a great responsibility. Yeah. It’s– when we think about it,
the courts are thinking about the way in which they
can deal with the victims of the disaster. But of course,
their own employees are the same victims
of the disaster. Yeah. Absolutely. And trying to balance
that a little bit can be very challenging. Judge Douglas, any
thoughts about that? About how you’re able to respond
to a disaster and the victims, and yet at the same time, deal
with some of your own court personnel who are
victims themselves? I think the most
important skill that you can have in disaster
preparation is being able to anticipate
the unanticipated, expect the unexpected,
and then being able to respond
to the unexpected and the unanticipated
under pressure. Because each disaster
that I have experienced has been unique
in its own right. For instance, Katrina– we can–
we talk a lot about Katrina, but people rarely
ever talk about Rita. So we had all these people
moving at the end of August from Katrina. Everybody thought to
move west or people were displaced in
different places around the United States. But then came Rita. And so even though
people were moving towards Baton Rouge and
Lake Charles in Houston, Rita came in and sort
of hit that area, too. And so as our law
firm at the time was planning, and as the
courts were planning, on perhaps moving some
of our records and things like that to Baton
Rouge, we learned that those places were
also open to exposure for different disasters. The place that I
winded up evacuating to, Opelousas, Louisiana, I
think within a year or two, they had been hit. And I never in a
million years thought that they were in a place that
they would have to experience some of those disasters. But so many different
disaster events are happening in
places that we never thought they might
happen, that it’s kind of hard to dot the
I’s and cross the T’s in the confines of a co-op
plan to figure out how to respond to each one of them. So you really just have to have
someone who’s flexible enough to be able to work
under pressure and figure out how to deal with
these things when that happens. In terms of our priorities,
I have a staff of 3 and 1/2. I have a judicial assistant,
a law clerk, and a law clerk that I share with that
with another judge. And it’s always when one
person goes on vacation that we realize how
essential that person is to the functioning
of our court system, and the accessibility
to the courts. And so to imagine everyone being
displaced in different places and trying to figure
out how we come together to make sure the court is
as accessible as possible, as quickly as possible,
you realize how essential those folks are to
making that happen. And so I do think it’s
very important to make sure that each person
is stable enough somewhere in their environments
before you can even move to the step of making
sure that the courthouse can function in a place and in a
way that it needs to function. Yeah. The best plans need good
people to implement them. And we’ve got to be
always cognizant of that. We just have a few minutes
left of this panel. So I’d like to just ask
each member of the panel to just give their final
thoughts about either the– or the disaster plan
that LSU has put forward, or your own kind of
final takeaways with regards to planning
for disasters. Judge Lippman? Well, I think that so many
of the report recommendations resonate with me, but
some more than others. And I think that I’d
emphasize, first, partnerships. We talked a lot about it today. I think that Nathan
had mentioned it, that you can’t do this as
a justice system in it’s own little tunnel. This is all about
everybody having a seat at the table in
the broadest of strokes. And the report talks about the
different players that matter. And I know with our
situation, New York today– and we did a meeting recently. In New York City at the
Emergency Command Center where we saw that everybody has
a seat at the table, everyone on the same– we’re all
talking to each other. And that’s how you get
through these things. And I think that that particular
issue, obviously, and build those partnerships, not on
the day that this is happening or that week, but in the
days and years before. So I would emphasize that. It’s community that
we’re a part of. That whole saying,
disaster recovery– the day of disaster is the worst
day to exchange business cards. Absolutely. Absolutely. Justice Hecht, final thoughts? Yeah. Nobody wants a disaster. And for that reason,
you’re just sort of loathe to prepare
for the disaster, because you don’t want to
recognize that it may happen. And so the wonderful
thing about the report is it just keeps that issue
before us all the time. And it has the recommendations
that we can use to build on in particular circumstances. Right now, of course, we’re
worried about the coronavirus. And Texas, like a
lot of jurisdictions, has a law that allows for
involuntary quarantining people that resist
treatment for the virus. But it’s a very specialized
law, and most of our judges have no idea that it’s even
there, let alone what it says. We have 3,220 judges in Texas,
and there’s 254 counties. There is no way in the world
you can train all those people. So how can you get
resources to those kinds of things that are as
different from Harvey as they could possibly be? And yet, at the same
time, they do sort of involve some of the
ideas and recommendations and the basis of
the LSE’s report. So this has been very good work. Thank you. Judge Douglas, a
final brief word. Yeah, I think events like
this are very important, because it gives
us an opportunity to confer with folks from
around the country who have had very different
experiences from our own. And it helps to inform what
we may do if we’re caught up in that situation where
you have very little time to think about what to do. You just try to move forward. And at least it gives you
some resource to pull from, and some other
contacts and folks that you can collaborate
with in order to come up with solutions to
some very unique problems. Thank you. And please join me in
thanking this esteemed panel for this today. [APPLAUSE]

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