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As one of only two criminal defense attorneys at Reed Smith, partner Efrem Grail could not stop thinking about a New York Times article he read detailing the plight of Louisiana county jail inmates in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They had been evacuated and transferred to county jails upstate before Katrina hit, he says, and “pretty much just left there.” Court filings and arrest records were destroyed by the hurricane, resulting in confusion over who the inmates were or even why they had been arrested. People who should have been released weren’t, Grail says, and others never received bail hearings. “It struck at the heart of our system of justice,” he says. So he got on the phone and offered help. Within days, 10 Reed Smith attorneys made their way to Shreveport, La., where they interviewed inmates and assisted with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers‘ effort to compile a database identifying those being held. In Reed Smith’s D.C. office, another group of lawyers tried locating the inmates’ families in order to let them know what was going on with their relatives’ legal situation. Linda Baumann, a health care partner who organized the D.C. effort, says she just wanted to do something to help. “I have gotten thank-you notes,” she says, “from attorneys for letting them participate.”
Bethany Broida can be contacted at [email protected].

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