Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bus Blogging

On my way to New Orleans, I was trying to prepare myself to face the devastation. I was expecting to see shattered homes, broken families and destroyed neighborhoods. While I did see these images, what surprised me the most was seeing the resiliency of the human spirit. I was inspired seeing small businesses re-opening their offices, families making the transition from the FEMA trailers back into their houses and children walking together to go to school. This is best lesson I have learned: while nature’s forces might be strong enough to break down levies, it must still withstand the strength of the human spirit.


I never imagined that my experience would be as fulfilling and eye-opening as it was. When I signed up to come to New Orleans, I knew that I would see and feel some sadness. I also knew that I would have a lot to do. Most of all, I knew that it was one of the most important decisions I would ever make.
I was assigned to the Public Defender Service, where I helped a staff attorney file motions, prepare for trial, and argue in court. From the moment I arrived, I fell in love with the city and my job at PDS. Although I witnessed some injustice, I felt that my participation, albeit small, was important and that it was working! After looong days in the office and in court, I got to go out with my classmates and enjoy the parts of the New Orleans that weren’t destroyed by the storm (including the cuisine). My love grew exponentially.
I consider myself extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to be a part of New Orleans, even if it was only for a few days. I would be even more fortunate if I could visit the city again. I’m so glad I dedicated my vacation to something bigger than myself. And I’m so grateful that Howard University School of Law gave me the opportunity to help New Orleans rebuild its legal system.


New Orleans. The Big Easy. The first images I saw as we approached New Orleans were those of indescribable destruction. Empty houses. Abandoned apartment complexes and public housing projects. FEMA trailers—countless FEMA trailers. No this was not the Big Easy as I remembered it.
We stayed in the lower Ninth Ward—605 St. Maurice Ave to be exact. What was once a neighborhood full of families and history now stands desolate and empty. The silence is what I’ll remember the most. That and the sadness. I had the opportunity to work with Habitat for Humanity where I built beds for volunteers and worked on finishing a home for a fortunate family. I will never be mistaken for a master carpenter but I feel like I made my contribution. I met new people, made new friends, and heard new stories…
Sure, I ventured into the French Quarter and sampled the food, music, and spirits that New Orleans is famous for. I had my fun. But the tension between what New Orleans used to be and what it hopes to become is inescapable. For certain parts of the city it’s life as usual. For other parts of the city, it’s just devastation and emptiness.
I’ll spare you my socioeconomic and political impressions because in the grand scheme of things they are unimportant. My words cannot come close to describing the disparities… All I wish to say is that those of you interested enough to read this blog should see New Orleans with your own eyes and draw your own conclusions. The devastation, which cannot (and will not) be captured by a camera lens, is expansive and the need for help is tremendous.
The music plays on. Po boys are served. Hurricanes (and lots of them) are consumed by revelers late into the night. But the City is broken. New Orleans is broken and may never be the same.

--James E. Nichols

Stopping by New Orleans on a Spring Evening-
I am the driver. The man with the van. The gas tank is empty. I am the transporter of work, food, and fun. For many the trip would not be the same if not for me behind the wheel. There were early morning trips to work and late night trips to Bourbon Street. I have toured the city more times then I can count. Sleep is a luxury to me but there are miles to go before I sleep. I am a group leader, the man with a plan. Many a po’boy, beignet, and praline were consumed because of me the man with the van.
Seriously the Loyola Housing Project was a great opportunity to utilize legal reasoning and writing skills in a real life environment. Our case was a situation concerning adverse possession and we were overjoyed to discover that somehow we knew the elements. We felt like real lawyers and the fruit of our labor was praised by the Loyola Clinic Lawyers. Overall, ASB was a great opportunity for future engineers to start engineering but I know that I will always be remembered as “the man with the van”
--Lawrence V “as in Van” Cosby

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This Bus is Leavin'

Okaaaaaaaaaaaay! We are about to load up the bus for the ride home. We have had a wonderful, amazing, memorable week. When I was making the decision to come here someone said "shouldn't we stay here and study?" And I thought about it, and of course the answer was yes, we should stay and study. But when I thought about the rest of my life and what would matter and what I would remember, I knew that I would easily forget my dilligent studying of wills, trusts and estates, but I knew that I would never forget that I came to New Orleans and helped after Katrina.

I am posting a picture from City Council this morning, where we were presented with a proclamation.
We have had a last beautiful day. The sun came out and I had a lovely walk through the French Quarter. Bittersweet to leave all of this behind, but I know I will return soon.

Loyola (from Phyllis)

Loyola Group

The Loyola group met with two staff attorneys from the Loyola Katrina Clinic and received two assignments. The first was to research Louisiana law of acquisitive prescription (eminent domain) for the case of a family who fled their home in Plaquemines Parish because of Katrina. A produce company claimed they owned the land, bulldozed the homes, fenced and locked the family out. The group assembled a proof chart for the cause of action of acquisitive prescription, researched Louisiana law and documented what material facts were missing. The second group researched issues surrounding the collection and storage of boats by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Fishing boats, from predominantly Asian American fishers, had been collected by LDEQ from public and private property, and stored. Their owners were looking for relief from having to pay storage fees in order to get their boats back. The group researched the collection contracts and possible remedies. A third group met with Mr. Broussard and received a project to research Louisiana state law, as well as federal constitutional law to identify issues involved in reorganization of the state judicial system.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Last night

Our amazing week in the Big Easy is drawing to a close. We have had a wonderful experience and I think every single person feels the impact of being here in New Orleans at this important moment in time.

I will wrap up my personal experience working with the Innocence Project of New Orleans. This organization works to free innocent people wrongly convicted of crimes. I therefore was not working directly on post-hurricaine issues as much as other groups. I was, however, able to do some very interesting research which actually led me to some interesting discoveries regarding floods and levy breaches from several decades ago. I have felt quite Erin Brocovich because we were sent out to a country library to do research, but were not supposed to tell anyone what we were looking for, as we do not want to bring attention to the case before we are ready. I am a history buff, so I found the research (which mostly consisted of looking at old parish newspapers) very interesting. We returned to the office and I researched and wrote a memo on another issue. I liked the people I worked with and enjoyed my job, although at times I wished that I was more in the trenches of hurricaine-related issues. I think my project was the only one not directly related to hurricaine issues, which makes me happy. I just look at my work putting this trip together as my sweat equity for Katrina, and I was glad to be here and be a part of it all. I am attaching a photo of my boss-for-the-week.

I did, as promised, get a few other people to write about their experiences and will post them below. More to come. (It will be forced bloggging on the bus ride tomorrow.)


This trip, honestly, has been one of the most eye-opening and profound experiences of my life. It has been a roller coaster of laughs, smiles, deep sympathy, and, most of all, hope. I came down here on a leap of faith. I didn’t know exactly where I would be or what I would be doing. But my time here has been spent productively and my faith in the people that coordinated this trip paid off. I had the opportunity to work with Terrell Broussard in figuring out possible constitutional challenges to a recently amended Louisiana statute that has narrowed the number of judges in the Orleans parish. Yes, the population here has dwindled. Yes, legislators have to keep in mind issues of judicial efficiency. But the fact of the matter remains that people need access to the courts. African-American judges are the norm in the New Orleans trial system. Decreasing the number of judges obviously means that there will be a diminishing of African-American judges. And the Constitution, along with the Voting Rights Act, has something to say about that. In just a week, I have been reminded of reasons why I applied to law school in the first place.


The silence in some parts of the 9th Ward, and the Lower 9th Ward in particular, is deafening. But I honestly believe that New Orleans has the hope within the city to revitalize it. I have been so humbled by the opportunity to play a small role in helping New Orleans in a post-Katrina world, and for me, this is only the beginning of doing all that I can to help.


I love my ASB team! I did succession work and I am happy about the fact that I might have made progress on cases that have been open for a long time. I’m usually more of the “stay home and study” person, but I enjoyed volunteering time that I probably would have wasted if I had spent it at home. Things were crazy at times and nothing was predictable; being here was certainly a lesson in flexibility J


I am off for my last day of work. Tomorrow I will go with the rest of the trip leaders and faculty to a City Council meeting where they are going to recognize the efforts of our students this week.

I should have blog posts from other job sites by the end of the day. I wanted to post some pictures from our wonderful dinner last night, attended by several local officials from City Council and Senator Landrieu's office.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Halfway through

We've had problems getting access to email and the blog, but here's an update. Everyone has started working in various placements. Seems like everything is going well. People in the Public Defender's office are interviewing inmates, DA's office is doing screening and observing criminal trials, Loyola is doing interesting adverse possession cases (trying to get people back homes that were taken post-Katrina), Succession is working to clear title, and the Baker project is interviewing residents at a FEMA trailer camp. Very interesting stories are coming from all of the students and faculty. Last night we attended a rally/orientation with the Student Hurricaine Network. There were many great speakers including a HUSL alum. Unfortunately, a few of our group members were involved in a minor accident. Everyone is fine and they continuted on their original mission to get food for everyone.

Tonight we had dinner at Cafe Reconcile. It is a really neat place that is much more than a restaurant. Google it and find out more. We were hosted by Senator Landrieu's office and Councilman Carter. It was the real deal. Amazing food, locals telling their stories, and a great chance for the whole group to get together. A few of us managed to find our way to Frenchman St. where the locals hang out and listen to great live music. Tomorrow is our last full day of work and our last night.

I have been doing research out in St. Charles Parish, which allowed me the opportunity to see some of the damage from the recent tornado. I'll attach a picture of that.

I'll post a few more pics (planning and chillin at St. Maurice Parish, and Louis, Nick and Morgan; the founder of Student Hurricaine Network). By tomorrow I should have additional postings from other people. Couldn't do it today because....HUSL email is down....again.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

We made it!

We pulled into New Orleans a bit early, around 3pm. Everyone got settled in various housing locations then we all met up at St. Maurice's Parish for dinner and a final briefing before people start their job placements tomorrow.

The rest of the bus ride was tough, but we managed to stay in good spirits. Breakfast split us up between Waffle House and Cracker Barrell. We got our new bus driver, T-Bone, at 4:30 am and quickly discovered that it was his birthday, so we got him a little present and card at Cracker Barrell.

We drove into New Orleans from the east, so we were able to see some of the areas hit by Katrina. Many huge apartment complexes were destroyed and deserted. As we looked down the streets of neighborhoods you could see gutted houses with trailers parked outside. It seems as though many people are living in trailers in the driveways of their homes. It was a somber arrival to NOLA, which reminded us of why we came.

Half of our group is staying at St. Maurice's Parish, which is located in the Lower 9th Ward. It is amazing to be living right in the middle of the area that was hardest hit. The whole neighborhood is eerily quiet and empty. A few of the residents came to say hello and seemed interested in what was going on and happy to see us (imagine a crew of HUSL students arriving in a deserted neighborhood).

After dinner most people went out to discover a bit of the French Quarter. I came back to the hotel early to finally sleep.

I'm going to add a few pics of us loading up the bus. Tomorrow we all scatter to various worksites. I will try to get other people to report on their experiences.