ABA President and Judicial Leaders Gather in New Orleans for Event Marking the Release of LSC’s Disaster Task Force Report

February 27, 2020

NEW ORLEANS – The Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) Disaster Task Force will hold an event marking the release of its report on Wednesday, March 4, at 9:30 a.m. at the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Task Force Report offers recommendations on how legal services providers can collaborate with outside partners to help vulnerable communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

Low-income survivors are particularly vulnerable to disasters and face pressing legal issues in the aftermath. They may require help obtaining copies of important documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses and Social Security cards to apply for or restore benefits and support. Low-income families who need housing after an emergency are more susceptible to scams and price-gouging. Disasters also increase needs in the core areas of practice for legal aid, such as public benefits, domestic violence prevention, consumer law and fraud prevention.

New Orleans has been hit hard by disasters. A 2017 study of metro areas found that New Orleans ranked the highest in the nation for household concern about natural disasters. This year marks the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many other calamities have plagued the region in the intervening years, including the Great Flood of 2016 with damages of $10-$15 billion.

The Task Force Report lays out concrete steps for communities to better respond in disaster situations and emergencies. Among the Report’s most significant findings was the need for legal services organizations to have a seat at the table during disaster preparation planning discussions. Several of the recommendations highlight the importance of building partnerships in both preparing for and responding to disasters. The report also stresses the need for greater preparedness on every level, including the courts and legal aid organizations who cannot provide legal services if they are not operational themselves. The Report encourages organizations to maintain comprehensive, up-to-date disaster plans and urges states to adopt model court reforms to facilitate post-disaster recovery. 

The Task Force is made up of emergency management experts, representatives from LSC-funded legal aid programs, members of the judiciary, and other leading stakeholders working to highlight and address the legal aid component of disaster response and recovery. The task force is led by three co-chairs: former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, now of Counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP; Martha Minow, Harvard University’s 300th Anniversary University Professor and LSC Board Vice Chair Father Pius Pietrzyk. Latham & Watkins served as pro bono counsel to the task force and provided financial support.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez will provide opening remarks at the event. She will be joined by another Task Force member, LSC Board Member Frank X. Neuner, Founder and Managing Partner of NeunerPate.

Judicial leaders will then take part in a panel discussion, “Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning and the Courts.” Having a COOP plan in place helps ensure that courts can perform essential functions even when normal operations are affected by a disaster or emergency. In addition to Judge Lippman, the panelists will include Dana M. Douglas, Magistrate, United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana; Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court and Justice John L. Weimer of the Louisiana Supreme Court. LSC Board Vice Chair Father Pius Pietrzyk will moderate the discussion.

Lastly, Dean Madeleine Landrieu, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, will deliver closing remarks on the significance of the Task Force’s work.

Members of the press are invited to attend. The event will also be livestreamed. To view it, visit LSC’s Facebook or Twitter page during the event or follow the conversation at #LSCdisaster.

Visit LSC’s Disaster Task Force page for membership information, videos and other material relevant to the Disaster Task Force’s work. 

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.