Disaster and the Law: Katrina De-Briefing
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Posted by: John White, '09
Liz Crow, John White, Julie Akemann, and Keri Nash.
On Thursday, April 24th, 2008, a group of Disaster and the Law course students participated in a panel describing some of our work outside of the classroom. Prof. Will McLain, who, with professors Laurie Morin and Susan Waysdorf, began the class in the Spring of 2007, combined his passion for this subject with Prof. Matt Fraidin’s hands-on clinical perspective to present a survey of legal issues raised by disasters and some practical avenues for lawyers to follow to mitigate their effects. The practical instruction had two components: work in the District over the course of the semester in a clinic-like environment, and a one-week practicum in New Orleans, during which the students worked in several different institutions providing supervised legal services for residents who had been affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The panel was an opportunity for the participants to explain their work in the course to the student body, faculty and staff.
Students Liz Crow and Anthony DiMillo organized the program. DiMillo presented an engaging slide presentation including pictures taken in New Orleans by the students and traditional New Orleans brass music.
The presentation began by explaining some of the work done by students during the semester in the District. Professors Fraidin and McLain had filed a D.C. Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the District’s Department of Corrections. The goal of this litigation is to ensure that the inmates of D.C. Jail will not suffer the inhumane tragedy that befell the inmates of the jail in New Orleans should a disaster strike here. John White spoke about researching District and Federal FOIA statutes in aid of that lawsuit.
Our attention then turned to the practicum in New Orleans. Rosanna Chase spoke about her work with the Orleans Public Defenders. She described the disgraceful treatment of inmates in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) and her efforts to protect their rights. Craig Bachelor explained the importance and difficulties of helping residents through the Louisiana probate process, called Succession. Thousands of Louisiana residents were required to show clear title to their destroyed property to qualify for federal assistance and rebuild their homes and lives. Liz Crow then spoke about helping the Louisiana ACLU monitor prison and prisoner conditions. That group of students spent their week navigating a formidable maze of bureaucratic obstacles for an opportunity to interview inmates of O.P.P. These interviews exposed the shocking conditions of the jail and the inmates’ lives while incarcerated there. And finally, Keri Nash recounted a lecture given for the students by Loyola University Law School professor and the founder of the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, Bill Quigley. Prof. Quigley spoke passionately about the need for rebuilding efforts and about the importance of bringing the lessons that students learned in New Orleans back to their home towns to prevent future tragedies.
Prof. McLain had the final word and reiterated his message that disasters expose pre-existing social vulnerabilities — and as students and lawyers we all have a responsibility to effectively address these vulnerabilities before a disaster amplifies them beyond our control.