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New York’s Unified Court System has organized a stand-by contingent of up to 400 volunteer court officials to help the devastated legal communities of Louisiana and Mississippi, the two states hardest hit last month by Hurricane Katrina. In light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye said Monday, “We have very special expertise, sad to say. We know what it’s like to have courtrooms brought to a standstill. We lived it — those unforgettable days and weeks when we had to figure out so many things for the first time.” The volunteers, most veterans of 9/11, are set to offer emergency help in such areas as court security, records recovery, voice and data communications, computer networks and the creation of temporary court sites. “I’m amazed. Everybody wants to do something,” Kaye said Monday in a phone interview from Albany. “The e-mails just keep coming to me.” The New York volunteers — as well as commitments of equipment and money through a specially created relief fund — have been registered with the State Emergency Management Office in Albany. Registration enables disaster-impacted states to quickly request specific assistance from other states, in accordance with the Interstate Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a federal program begun in 1996 when then-Florida Governor Lawton Chiles was unhappy with government response to Hurricane Andrew. Ronald Younkins, chief of operations for the Office of Court Administration, said that Gulf Coast court officials are currently assessing damage to their facilities and conducting a census of their scattered personnel. “As soon as they’re ready to have us, we’ll deploy people and materials,” he said. “Right now, we have team leaders in place just waiting to hear the word.” In addition to volunteers, the following New York assets were registered as available to the courts of Louisiana and Mississippi: � 50 law enforcement personnel to help with courthouse and courtroom security and handling prisoners. � 100 personal computers. � Assorted technical equipment, including 10 magnetometers, 20 hand-scanners, 10 rechargeable search lanterns, 72 heavy-duty flashlights and 1,500 light sticks. Kaye said sending the personnel and resources to the Gulf Coast will not have any negative repercussions at home. “We may not have a large cadre of people actually go down, so I don’t think it’s going to be a drain on us or negatively impact our resources,” she said. “At the first level, what I hope is that it’s going to be a solace to people there that we have so many eager to help.” When Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, Kaye called on three top deputies — Younkins from OCA; Lawrence K. Marks, OCA’s administrative director; and Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman — to begin assessing which people and what assets could be available for dispatch to the region. In addition, the trio informed their Southern counterparts of cash grants available through the “UCS Katrina Courts and Families Recovery Fund,” modeled on a fund created after 9/11 that raised about $350,000 to aid New York court personnel and their families. (Contributions to the UCS Katrina Fund may be sent to OCA at 25 Beaver Street, 11th floor, New York, N.Y., 10004.) On Friday, Kaye was advised that the legal systems of Louisiana and Mississippi were in shambles. In an internal report, Lippman wrote of those states: “Countless judges and court employees and their families have been dislocated from their homes. … [S]ome court personnel are reported missing, and many courthouses have been destroyed, damaged or flooded.” While Alabama officials said courts there had “escaped relatively unscathed,” according to Lippman’s report, the destruction elsewhere along the Gulf Coast is incalculable. “[T]he Mississippi court system was not prepared for the severity of the hurricane and has been brought to its knees,” Lippman wrote. “Communications have been virtually nonexistent. As a result, they are unaware at this time whether any court personnel are among the dead and missing.” In Louisiana, court officials in the capital of Baton Rouge are “still very much in the dark as to the condition of the courthouses located in the affected regions,” Lippman wrote, “since they have been unable to gain access … to assess the damage, including, for example, to the Supreme Court, which is located in downtown New Orleans.” Lippman said Louisiana officials do not yet know the number of displaced or deceased court employees, but that they do know that 10 of the 12 judges who sit on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are without homes. Since recovery of legal systems in Louisiana and Mississippi hinge on retrieving or recreating vital documents, the New York court official most likely to head south is Rick Hogan, OCA’s chief records manager. “We’ve done this kind of work before,” he said, referring to 9/11, “but nothing on this scale.” Last Tuesday, Hogan began researching court rules and regulations in Louisiana and Mississippi with respect to record-keeping in order to prepare for the massive restoration task. “Louisiana actually has a pretty robust system of records preservation,” he said, citing procedures for backing up paper records via microfilm and digital archives. “You don’t necessarily find that in every state, and it will help in our efforts if we’re called.” As for paper records still underwater, he added, “If they’re not mush, to some degree they’re in a better situation than 9/11 when things were blown up.” Hogan said water-damaged paper would first be preserved by freezing, then put through any of several chemical processes to restore ink images. “It’s actually pretty fascinating,” said Younkins, who expects to travel south with two to three assistants and a supply of latex gloves, masks and tweezers for peeling apart stuck pages. “Talk about hands on. We really are.”

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