A week from today, August 29, 2009 will mark the beginning of the fifth year following Hurricane Katrina – time for a 7th inning stretch.
Although I had to double down on posts the day before, I had my 7th inning yesterday – reflecting on what I know and don’t know about Katrina litigation and what I need to know to help the slabbed.
“This Court” – the Southern District Federal Court hearing Katrina litigation – needs a 7th inning for reflection as well.
As the storm moved inland and it became possible to assess the damage, there was little doubt a legal storm would follow – that it so quickly became a Category 5 was the only surprise.
Much of the post-Katrina preparation for the legal storm to come fell to Magistrate Judge Walker — largely by default: “One week after the storm, the U.S. Marshals located all of the federal judges on the Gulf Coast and determined that I was the only judge whose home had not been destroyed.”
Katrina litigation began with the Court in a survival mode. Walker, appointed in November 2004, had been a magistrate judge less than a year. He, the only judge with a home on the Coast that wasn’t destroyed; and, Judge Senter, who did not have a home there, were the only two who could hear hurricane cases.
Survival mode thinking made if possible for them to take on this Herculean test; however, this thinking in many ways continues and the glorious sunshine that followed the storm is only beginning to surface in the court’s decisions. Over the next several days, SLABBED will offer examples of why a 7th inning stretch is needed by a court that was literally in the dark for weeks after Katrina:
…[T]he courthouse in Gulfport received substantial damage, an alternate site had to be found. Walker rented six apartments at a local complex to conduct court business. “It took about three weeks for the apartments to obtain electricity and water, but shortly thereafter, with rented furniture and through the tireless efforts of our clerk, J.T. Noblin, and the court technical staff, we became a fully functional chambers,” Walker explains. “I actually held court in the apartments, but for security reasons used the state courthouse to conduct criminal matters.” It would be nine months before Walker and his staff would finally return home to the courthouse in Gulfport.
SLABBED looks back so that we may move forward – mindful we must respect the past, remember that it was once all that was humanly possible.
As I was searching for the article quoting Judge Walker, I learned something about my past. My dad’s friend “Judge” was not only a federal district court judge; but, he also served on the Fifth Circuit. My memories of Claude Feemster Clayton, however, are not of a judge but a man – and I can think of no better perspective for examining Katrina litigation.