Storm Update - Further Information About The Legal Aid Society's Operations - Message for Legal Aid Staff
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 03, 2012

This has been a week of tragedy and heartbreak, but it has also been a week of inspirational efforts by all of you working as a team -- managers, staff attorneys and support staff. Just getting to work has been a challenge. Nevertheless, the dedication and commitment to resume our operations and to provide effective legal advocacy despite obstacles at every turn have been extraordinary.

For example, at the end of the week, under threat of litigation, the Criminal Practice obtained an agreement to produce on Monday clients who have languished on Riker's without being produced in court because of the lack of power in the Courthouse in Manhattan. At the same time, the Civil Practice has implemented a disaster relief outreach program to bring legal assistance directly to low-income families and individuals living in public housing developments and in isolated communities that have been devastated by the Hurricane. Juvenile Rights staff has been providing representation in substantive proceedings affecting the urgent needs of children, and just yesterday obtained an appellate stay to stop an individual Judge from preventing us from representing our client by relieving us for no valid reason.

As we go into the next week, we expect some of our existing problems to be resolved and we now know that we face some new ones. On Friday afternoon, we received a report from the Office of Court Administration that power will be restored to the 60 Lafayette Street Family Court building this weekend so that the building can reopen on Monday which will enable our clients' cases to be heard and our Juvenile Rights office to be reopened. Late on Friday night, we received word that power had been restored to the 100 Centre Street Criminal Courthouse so that full operations can resume on Monday. Based on these developments and reports that we are receiving this morning about the restoration of power in Lower Manhattan and the reopening of our 49 Thomas Street building, we expect that on Monday morning we can return to our 49 Thomas Street Criminal Defense office and our 350 Broadway Juvenile Rights office. As soon as we have additional information, we will provide it directly to affected Criminal Defense and Juvenile Rights staff. As we found when we reopened other offices, we may find difficulties with telephone service, computer service, and internet access when we reopen these offices. MIS staff will be ready to be deployed to these offices to address these issues.

Unfortunately, we still have no concrete information regarding the reopening of 199 Water Street other than the building management's report to us that the water from the flooding should be pumped out by the weekend so that the damage to the building can be evaluated more fully. Therefore, again on Monday, Water Street staff should continue to report to the locations to which they have relocated.

By Friday, internet access was restored to all offices, including at Livingston Street where the Verizon problem has been bypassed with a direct connection to the data center, but streaming has been blocked because of the precariousness of this connection. However, because of Verizon problems, we are still without telephone service at some of our offices.

Even as we have been making progress, we encountered another obstacle in Queens. Late Friday, as a result of a gas leak in the building that is unlikely to be repaired until sometime next week, we had to close our combined Queens Civil and Criminal office. While the HVAC system in the building is being repaired next week, starting on Monday morning, November 5, Queens Criminal Defense staff will be relocated temporarily to makeshift space in the library of the Criminal Courthouse, and Civil staff can work in the Queens Juvenile Rights office. Information about these matters is being communicated directly to the affected Queens staff.

Because providing transportation between Brooklyn and Manhattan has been helpful while there is no public transportation link to downtown Manhattan and we do not know when the MTA service in Lower Manhattan will be restored, we will continue to have van service for a continuous loop between 100 Centre Street and 111 Livingston Street. We greatly appreciate and encourage the carpooling by staff who drive to work. We recognize that the gas shortages at the end of the week have posed significant problems. But we are hopeful that the deliveries that have been promised for this weekend in the metropolitan area will alleviate this problem.

Finally, although we have been able to arrange to distribute individual paychecks to the 150 staff members who do not have direct deposit, we received reports on Friday that several Chase branch offices declined to permit several employees to cash their checks, saying that the checks were not funded. As the vast majority of staff who have direct deposit know from receiving the electronic payments on Wednesday, this is absolutely untrue. It is unacceptable to us if even one staff member was unable to cash a paycheck on Friday. We have complained to senior Chase representatives and we are working with the individual affected staff.

As the week comes to a close, I want to again thank you all for what you have done to provide client services and to keep this organization operating when our clients need us the most.