Eric Quitugua 2017-09-25 01:59:52
Texas attorneys answer the call to help. On August 25, Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, ravaging coastal communities with its near-130 mph winds and dumping trillions of gallons of water into Houston, where catastrophic flooding destroyed homes and businesses and forced thousands to seek relief in shelters around the city. The death toll surpassed 80 by mid-September. First responders and volunteers from across the state and country sprang into action, some forming human chains to rescue people trapped in their cars or apartments and others cruising on boats in search of neighbors and families perched on rooftops. Hundreds of the state’s attorneys stepped up, as well, providing everything from legal services to supplies. Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, now of counsel to Gray Reed & McGraw in Houston, was on-site at the city’s largest evacuee shelter—the 706,000-square-foot NRG Center. “You see in this shelter hope and grace in the face of disaster,” said Eckels, who helped run the shelter. “I meet volunteers not only from Houston and Texas, but from Denver and New York City, South Dakota, Arkansas, California, and Mississippi—from all across America, folks who are grateful for the opportunity to help and folks who are grateful to be getting help.” The shelter opened its doors August 29, with a capacity to handle 10,000 people. Inside the center: a pharmacy, an area for pets, a play area for children, rows of cots, and huge stacks of diapers and toiletries. Eckels, who established the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Management while he was the county judge, worked with former Gov. Rick Perry in 2008 during post-Hurricane Ike recovery, which was built on lessons learned from disaster relief efforts from previous storms—most notably Hurricane Katrina. That cumulative knowledge informed operations at NRG. “It is a little more complicated to find housing for those who lost their homes as we must find new or temporary housing close to their old homes for jobs, school, church, or other houses of worship and social support networks,” he said. In northern Houston, state Rep. Jeff Leach, along with friends from Collin County, searched by boat for people who needed help evacuating severely flooded areas. For two days, his crew spanned Spring, Kingwood, and The Woodlands. With the help of local, state, and federal officials, they were able to transport as many as 50 people— including their pets—from their homes to shelters on dry land. “After spending time in Houston in the immediate aftermath of Harvey assisting with boat evacuation operations and participating in daily coastal briefings from DPS—I can report firsthand that yes, the storm was strong, but the spirit, compassion, and resolve of the people of Texas is even stronger,” Leach said. Austin attorney Keith Hopkinson, of counsel to Winstead, and his fiancée, Alyssa Pennington, helped victims from the skies above Texas. Local Boy Scouts loaded the lawyer’s single-engine AA-5B Tiger with school supplies, canned goods, toilet paper, hygiene products, and paper towels, and the couple flew about 250 miles east to Beaumont and Port Arthur, where they dropped off supplies at the regional airport. The two then headed west to Rockport to help a local rotary club unload other small planes packed with goods—a combined effort of about five tons. Just two weeks prior, the eye of Harvey made landfall in the area. “It was very eerie taxiing to the airport terminal past destroyed hangars, planes, and dozens of vehicles,” Hopkinson said. “The runway lights at the Rockport airport were operating but were not visible because each one had sheet metal wrapped around them from the storm.” There are many more stories like these of hope and help, of people volunteering their time, energy, resources, and talent to help friends and strangers. In fact, as of September 6, 788 Texas attorneys, 1,106 out-of-state lawyers, 110 law students, and 72 paralegals have signed up through the State Bar to provide free legal help to Harvey survivors. And even as the lawyers of Texas help those in need, there are lawyers who have also been affected by Hurricane Harvey. More than two dozen attorneys contacted the bar for assistance with temporary housing and office space. Following Harvey, the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, which provides confidential help for law students, lawyers, and judges who have problems with substance abuse and mental health issues held support group conference calls for people living in flooded areas. “We know that the incredible stress and trauma that can result in the face of a natural disaster can have a strong and debilitating effect on a person’s practice and personal life,” TLAP Director Bree Buchanan said. “We want our lawyers to be as healthy and productive as possible.” For more information, go to tlaphelps.org. With an estimated $180 billion in damages across Texas and over five million people affected, full recovery isn’t expected for years. As the sorting and rebuilding begins, resources are available at the State Bar’s Law Practice Management website, texaslawpracticemanagement.com, to provide guidance on everything from retention of client files to closing a practice. “We continue to pray for those affected by the storm and give thanks to all of the Texans—as well as the thousands of people outside of Texas— who are offering substantive relief, help, and aid,” Leach said. “We are confident that, in due time, Houston will be even stronger than it was before.” If you would like to share your Harvey experience, please send us your story at email@example.com. HURRICANE HARVEY RESPONSE UPDATE Dear Fellow Attorneys, I know that Hurricane Harvey and its related flooding have damaged many of your homes and law offices. Please know that my thoughts are with you during this difficult time, and the State Bar of Texas is here to serve you in any way possible. The State Bar is providing a number of resources to lawyers and members of the public affected by Hurricane Harvey. Disaster Hotline —The State Bar’s toll-free disaster hotline (800) 504-7030 —answered in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese—connects low-income disaster survivors to legal assistance through local legal aid or pro bono programs. Based on where the caller lives, the hotline routes the caller to a legal aid agency in his or her area where attorneys can help with a variety of legal concerns from lost documents to insurance questions, renters’ concerns, applying for federal disaster assistance, and other matters. Disaster Resources —The State Bar has collected a number of valuable explanatory documents, assistance links, and how-to videos for the public at texasbar.com/disasters . A page of disaster relief resources designed specifically for attorneys is available at texasbar.com/attorneyresources featuring free CLE opportunities, volunteer guides, and other materials. Attorneys Affected —Hurricane Harvey and its related flooding affected a number of attorneys and law firms. To that effort the State Bar created an assessment survey at texasbar.com/attorneyrelief where attorneys with needs can report how their colleagues can assist them with things like temporary housing or office space. State Bar staff is working to match those in need with other lawyers who are eager to help. If you need help with stress, anxiety, or other emotional effects of the disaster, call the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 1-800-343-8527 or go to tlaphelps.org for more information. Volunteer Attorneys —The State Bar also is coordinating the attorney volunteer effort. Nearly 2,400 attorneys—many from out of state—as well as paralegals and law students have volunteered to assist the public with this disaster. The State Bar’s Legal Access Division has collected the volunteers’ information through an online form at texasbar.com/attorneyvolunteer and is connecting those volunteers with needs reported by the various legal aid agencies. MCLE Extension —State Bar of Texas members affected by Hurricane Harvey may request an extension of time for compliance with MCLE requirements. MCLE Rules and Regulations allow extensions of up to 90 days in cases of “good cause,” such as extraordinary hardship or extenuating circumstances beyond the control of the member. If you need an extension, you can either: • Email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org; • Fax it to (512) 427-4423; or • Mail it to MCLE Dept. P.O. Box 13007, Austin, Texas, 78711-3007. Your request should include your name and bar number and should briefly outline the extent of your hardship or extenuating circumstances. To view your current MCLE status online, log in to your My Bar Page and then click on the link to “View/Report MCLE Hours.” Please contact the State Bar MCLE Department at (800) 204-2222, ext. 1806 , if you have questions about extension requests or MCLE compliance requirements. Court Orders —Several emergency orders have been issued related to Hurricane Harvey, including an order authorizing modification and suspension of court procedures in affected proceedings and an order extending the deadline for payment of State Bar dues for Texas attorneys whose principal offices are in counties declared disaster areas. Orders related to Hurricane Harvey can be found in this issue starting on page 600 or find links to all of the emergency court orders at texasbar.com/attorneyresources . Court Closures —For a list of court closures and delays, go to texasbar.com/attorneyresources . Monetary Donations —The State Bar is encouraging donations to the Harvey relief effort at texasbar.com/harveyfund . I hope you find these resources useful. If there is anything else the State Bar can do to help, please let me know. Sincerely, Tom Vick President, State Bar of Texas email@example.com
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