Springfield lawyers have their practices in order, but legal
issues have just begun
A year after she had to dive under her desk while her office
blew apart, Springfield attorney Andrea R. Reid and her law partner
Lynn Gaudet have gotten most of their logistical issues addressed.
Reid is now practicing out of an office-share location on State
Street. Gaudet's Fitchburg office was unaffected.
The building housing Attorney Dale Bass' practice was the first
in Springfield to be torn down, he says. He lost all his files, but
with the help of the District Attorney's office the City Clerk's
office and Hampden Superior Court, he was back up and running in
two weeks after help from the court to reconstruct all his
pleadings. He has since relocated to Stockbridge Street, four
blocks from his former office.
Attorney Karen Duffy, who practices family law, was able to
retrieve undamaged files from her office. Her first concern was
about the possible disciplinary consequences of losing client
files. That turned out to be a non-issue. According to Constance V.
Veccione, chief Bar Counsel to the Board of Bar Overseers, the BBO
received only one call from one attorney and none from clients
regarding missing files. While the BBO would have extended help to
anyone who asked, she says the absence of concern about the problem
means one of two things: either attorneys sought help elsewhere, or
they were able to retrieve and reconstruct their files.
Thomas A. Kenefick III, Hampden County Bar Association
president, says it is highly unlikely that a BBO complaint would
issue regarding compromise of client confidentiality following loss
of files in a natural disaster. Further, the respondent would seem
to have strong defense, assuming that he or she were otherwise in
compliance, he adds.
NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
Reid and Gaudet have a policy of copying clients on all
correspondences and not keeping any original biographic documents
or passports in the file. Out of their more than one hundred
clients, only one has inquired about the security of her file. Two
weeks after the storm, Reid attended an informational meeting for
business owner/operators and residents where she learned that the
city had contracted with an outside company to arrange for the
shredding and destruction of paper documents recovered in the
cleanup process. This information was passed on to Reid's client,
who also requested periodic review of her credit report. Reid could
relate - her own personal tax documents were in her office when the
Reid and Gaudet now have a T1 external drive for backing up
files, and it gets monthly backups offsite. The practice has always
provided duplicate copies of documents to its clients, and
continues to do so. The firm also bought insurance to cover
financial losses in case of another disaster.
Dale Bass has converted his practice to all-electronic
documentation, and carries a thumb drive to keep it all in
Duffy bought a scanner and is converting all her files to
CD-ROM. The process is time-consuming, but she prefers this route
to cloud computing, which she regards as expensive and unsecure for
storing client files. In her divorce and family law practice,
clients tend to return frequently, so closed files often have to be
retrieved. Retrieval from the cloud would be cost-prohibitive. CDs,
stored at both her office and her home, allow her to instantly
retrieve a file, and she has a backup if something happens in
GIMME SHELTER -- PLEASE
While the legal community has made strides in getting its house
in order, real estate problems caused by the storm continue,
primarily concerning the condemnation of damaged structures by the
city without prior notification to owners or tenants. The
demolitions were conducted for safety reasons, as the structures
were deemed unsound. Lawyers for the South Commons Condominium
Association filed a complaint against the city on June 1 of this
year, the anniversary of the storm, contesting that the city
deprived condo owners of their constitutional rights to due process
because they did not receive condemnation notices until several
days after the storm and demolition.
Reid and Gaudet's landlord invited them to join a suit, but they
declined. Their building had been razed two days after the
Duffy had a problem with her then- landlord, who was based out
of state. That landlord delayed returning her security deposit and
last month's rent. It took almost nine months for her to receive a
check for the last month's rent. "I thought of suing, but I didn't
want to be that person," she says. She contacted the MBA and asked
if anyone could review her commercial lease to evaluate it for
possibilities of termination, and found a new office.
She expresses surprise at one thing: "People were in a position
to take advantage, but they surprised me. " Fearing she had lost
negotiating power because of the need to move, prospects brightened
when she found a local landlord who allowed extra time to pay the
first month's rent. "I really had expected not to get a good deal,"
The Springfield office of the Massachusetts Bar Association
helped displaced attorneys by offering office space, conference
rooms and general facilities. The MBA asked lawyers to volunteer
help with residential problems. Three weeks after the storm, a
Disaster Relief Dial-A-Lawyer hotline session attracted 38
volunteer attorneys to man the phone banks. The program, which
fielded 230 calls on landlord/tenant issues and FEMA information.
It was jointly offered by the Hampden County Bar Association, the
MBA and the Western New England School of Law. Forty-eight
attorneys agreed to receive referrals from the MBA's Springfield
Edward Pikula is Springfield's city solicitor. In the storm's
aftermath, he did a lot of work to assist the public. Disaster law
was new territory for the law department, which had to get up to
speed quickly. The city brought in a specialist from New Orleans
(see sidebar below) to advise on maximizing disaster recovery from
all sources. In February of this year, Pikula authored an article
on the details of natural disaster recovery.
His motivation for writing the piece stemmed from the crash
course the law department got in disaster recovery. Pikula says
that in the beginning, FEMA was helpful but as the process
progressed, the law department found itself at odds with some of
the agency's decisions. There appears to have been a Catch-22
situation. FEMA does not want to be the reimburser of first resort
if other avenues of funding are available. Pikula says that
receiving a denial from FEMA served as a prerequisite to pursue
Springfield is on the mend, but Duffy probably speaks for many
people when she says, "If there's a dark cloud in the sky, my eyes
are glued to it."
The second reconstruction: How Louisiana courts coped after Katrina
A natural disaster of
unexpected power has a tendency to jam up the court system. After
the June 1, 2011 tornados, the Massachusetts court system turned to
experts from Louisiana to determine what to do and when.
The Aug. 29, 2005, landfall of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans
damaged or destroyed the legal files of attorneys and courts alike.
Both courts and attorneys were displaced from their offices and
homes. The Louisiana Supreme Court declared a legal holiday from
Aug. 29 to Nov. 25. Gov. Louise Blanco issued two executive orders
suspending all deadlines in legal proceedings across the
The Louisiana Supreme Court gave special resolution to displaced
attorneys. But in the interest of timely access to justice, the LSC
also passed a resolution, effective Oct. 3, allowing for the
shortening or lifting of the deadline suspensions in cases where no
attorney or party to the proceeding had been adversely impacted by
hurricanes Katrina or Rita.
The courts had to dry out reams of files to save them.
Unsalvageable files were reconstructed from microfilm archives, and
cobbled from patchworks from courts and clients. "It did all come
back together because people worked very hard to make it so," says
James Daly, screening counsel for the Louisiana Office of