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As Hurricane Katrina and growing floodwaters have turned the New Orleans business district into a legal ghost town, officials at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are making plans to relocate the court. Several breaks in the levees that surround the city have caused water to rise around the marble walls of the John Minor Wisdom Courthouse, which houses the 5th Circuit. The city’s electricity is expected to be out for a month or more. “We can’t return to the building anytime soon,” said Carolyn Dineen King, chief judge of the 5th Circuit. “So we have to have an alternative site. The question is, where?” While Houston, where King’s chambers are based, may be a logical choice, it still will be a difficult decision. The temporary location of the court was expected to be announced last Friday. “There’s a natural inclination on the part of our employees to want to be near New Orleans. And so that’s what we’re trying to look at,” said King, who added that the court employs about 200 people at its base in New Orleans. “We’re looking at Houston, and we’re looking at several locations.” King said she is not sure when the court will resume its regular operations. But in the meantime, filing deadlines have been extended. And lawyers have been instructed not to send any filings to the New Orleans courthouse. Further instructions about where to direct emergency matters can be found here. Hurricane Betsy The city has a history of surviving natural disasters. One of them, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, destroyed a New Orleans high school, forcing the John Minor Wisdom Courthouse to be used as a substitute school for five years. Judges for the 5th Circuit have planned for something on the order of Katrina for a long time, King said. Days ago, when meteorologists began warning of the storm, court staff started moving some files from the first floor to the second floor in anticipation of flooding. On Saturday, Aug. 27, the court canceled its oral argument schedule for the coming week and told employees to leave the city for their own safety, King said. “We didn’t want anyone to stay out of a sense of duty, that’s for sure,” King said. “The most important thing in a situation like this is people’s lives. Everything else is secondary.”

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