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For attorney John B. Copenhaver, putting out a fire doesn’t mean alleviating a client crisis or obtaining a temporary restraining order. To Copenhaver, putting out a fire means exactly that. For nearly 3-1/2 years, Copenhaver was the southeastern regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), coping with 54 presidentially declared disasters, including fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. While his University of Georgia law school education helped him think on his feet, he says nothing could have prepared him for the big decisions he had to make with FEMA. For example, in the summer of 1998, Copenhaver had to order the complete evacuation of Florida’s Flagler County, between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. Three wildfires were racing across the county from its western side toward the ocean. Removing Flagler’s 50,000 residents meant shutting down everything, including tourism, the county’s only thriving industry. “We knew if we evacuated the entire county and the worst didn’t happen, there would be some people that said we jumped the gun.” But, he says, “When there’s life at stake, you have to assume the worst and make your decision accordingly.” While emergency management is not a heavily traveled career path for law graduates, Copenhaver was no novice when he moved to FEMA. After graduating from law school in 1979 Copenhaver worked two years at several Atlanta law firms, then clerked with Judges George T. Smith, George H. Carley and Arnold Shulman of the Georgia Court of Appeals. From there he moved on to the business world, starting at Southern Bell (now BellSouth) where he dealt with potential disruptions caused by catastrophic events. In 1996, he moved to IBM, where he helped corporate customers prepare for natural disasters. A year later, FEMA recruited him. As a regional director, Copenhaver was the civilian equivalent of a three-star general, he says. The job paid a maximum of $130,200. In addition to arranging for federal aid to southeastern areas hit by natural disasters, Copenhaver taught residents how to limit injuries through the experiences of survivors. Simple measures such as wearing a bicycle helmet to prevent head injuries during a tornado can save lives, he says. Copenhaver, who maintains his State Bar membership, says his legal skills at synthesizing large amounts of information helped him at FEMA. “The federal government can be intimidating,” he says. “It’s a huge sea of acronyms, and there are so many rules and regulations and ‘thou shalt nots.’ “ The FEMA post is a presidentially appointed position, so Copenhaver resigned in January. However, he says it’s possible that he could be reappointed, and he’s weighing his options. He says he’s supported by Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., and U.S. House of Representatives members Nathan Deal, R-Ga., and Charles Norwood, R-Ga. Briefly … Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law will host the first ethics symposium funded by the 1998 DuPont Benlate litigation settlement. The symposium, which will be held in Macon, Ga., Friday and Saturday, will focus on three types of ethical issues in lawyer-to-lawyer settlement negotiations: truthfulness, confidentiality and fairness. Scheduled to participate in the discussions are: U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen (N.D. Ill.), U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Mary S. Scriven (M.D. Fla.), National Bar Association president Evett L. Simmons, former American Bar Association president William Reece Smith Jr., and Thomas A. Zlaket, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Arizona. U.S. District Court (M.D. Ga.) Judge Hugh Lawson sanctioned DuPont for misconduct arising from a 1993 trial. The trial involved claims that a DuPont fungicide, Benlate 50 DF, had damaged or ruined growers and nursery owners’ plants. DuPont was ordered to pay $2.5 million to each of Georgia’s four accredited law schools — Emory University, Georgia State University, Mercer University and the University of Georgia — to endow a chair devoted to fostering professionalism. Lawson also ordered DuPont to pay $1 million to endow an annual ethics symposium that the law schools will host on a rotating basis. For more information about the symposium, call Patrick E. Longan at (478) 301-2639.

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