Legal Aid Staff Provides Civil Legal Assistance to Hurricane Sandy Victims and Continues to Provide Representation in Criminal, Family and Civil Courts

Today, members of The Legal Aid Society staff are providing legal assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy by helping with FEMA and food stamp applications at the Miller Field New Dorp Lane FEMA Center in Staten Island, at the John Jay High School Shelter in Brooklyn, and with New York Communities for Change in Far Rockaway. Yesterday, Legal Aid lawyers assisted hundreds of Coney Island residents with FEMA and emergency food stamp applications and other legal needs through our Mobile Justice Unit until they ran out of gas. Friday assistance was provided to Red Hook residents.

During the storm and in the immediate aftermath, managers, staff attorneys and support staff have provided and are continuing to provide extraordinary services to clients. At the request of the Office of Court Administration and the City, we provided representation to adults and juveniles in the arraignment parts that operated on Monday until they closed at 1 PM and then in the parts that resumed operation on Tuesday at 5 PM just hours after the storm had died down. Then on Wednesday morning, we resumed representation at 9 AM in criminal, civil and family court matters when the courts reopened across the City, and we represented clients in parole hearings on Riker's Island. On Thursday and Friday, we continued to represent clients in these courts, including during the resumption of night arraignments on Thursday and Friday nights. This weekend, we are also continuing to represent clients at adult and juvenile arraignments.

Meanwhile, we have faced extreme challenges in order to be in a position to provide these services. We had to take down our computer system early on Monday night as the storm was hitting to protect it from damage that would have resulted from a precipitous loss of power due to the storm. The senior staff and various senior managers then had to run the organization from Monday night until Wednesday morning literally using cell phones and personal e-mail accounts, including making sure that staff would be in place to safely provide client services on Tuesday night and on Wednesday morning and to begin to plan for the resumption of our operations and the implementation of disaster relief services. Many senior staff members, managers, staff attorneys, and support staff members themselves have had no power, telephone service, and internet access during this period.

Moreover, the lack of Con Edison service below 40th Street in Manhattan has caused the closure of our Criminal Defense office on 49 Thomas Street, our Juvenile Rights office at 350 Broadway, and our Juvenile Rights office in the closed Family Court building at 60 Lafayette Street. Due to flooding in the basement and lobby of 199 Water Street, our headquarters office there is closed. While we are now planning to reopen the Thomas Street, Broadway and Lafayette Street offices on Monday as Con Edison service has been restored to these locations, we do not yet know when we can return to Water Street.