Vol. 78, No. 11, November
When Disaster Strikes...
In the wake of the Stoughton area tornado and hurricanes Katrina and
Rita, the Wisconsin Lawyer asked State Bar members about their
experiences with some of the myriad issues surrounding disasters,
including preparing for and recovering from disaster, aiding hurricane
evacuees, and helping lawyers reestablish their prctices in hard-hit
ER Lawyer Prepares Wisconsin for Disaster
Messages from Gulf Coast Lawyers
Meeting Evacuees' legal needs
Helping Gulf Coast Lawyers Resume Practice
Help Hurricane Victims
Could Your Firm Recover?
by Dianne Molvig
ER Lawyer Prepares Wisconsin for
Attorney Randi Wind Milsap - Wisconsin's "answer person" regarding
the legal questions that arise in the midst of a disaster, during
recovery efforts, and in dealing with "what if" disaster-planning
scenarios - sees her primary role as a problem-solver.
If there's a consistent lesson from man-made and natural disasters,
it's that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to plan for everything
that might happen. But attorney Randi Wind Milsap certainly tries.
Milsap is legal counsel to the Wisconsin Department of Military
Affairs, based in Madison. As part of her duties she recently devoted
much of an early October workweek to writing a report to Gov. Jim Doyle
on the state of emergency preparedness in Wisconsin. It's a high
priority topic, naturally, in the wake of recent tornadoes close to home
and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita nearly a thousand miles away.
In fact, Milsap's job - a civilian position she's held for more than
12 years - is several jobs rolled into one. As legal counsel to the
Department of Military Affairs, which is housed in the same building as
the Wisconsin National Guard, she reports to Major General Albert
Wilkening, Adjutant General of Wisconsin.
She's also chief legal counsel to the state's Division of Emergency
Management, which is attached to the Department of Military Affairs.
Plus, she's counsel to the state's Homeland Security Council, a
seven-member advisory body appointed by the governor and chaired by
Wilkening. On top of that, Milsap is "basically the general
practitioner," as she describes it, for the Department of Military
Affairs, providing soldier assistance and handling personnel and
"It would be fair to say I learn something almost every day in my
job," Milsap says. "Each disaster situation is unique. You store what
you learn in your gray cells so you can use it again, or maybe use a
variation of it."
She recalls, for instance, the March 1996 train derailment in
Weyauwega, the largest disaster to date in Wisconsin. Railroad tanker
cars strewn along the tracks were at risk of imploding and then
exploding, which would have released highly toxic chemicals and
endangered roughly 2,500 area residents. The situation called for an
"It escalated quickly from a local event to a statewide event,"
Milsap says, "because of the number of people that had to be
coordinated" to respond to the emergency. Once the event was declared a
state disaster, the State Emergency Operations Center, located in
Madison, was activated, assembling people with various expertise to aid
in the response.
One of them was Milsap, who stood ready to answer the sorts of legal
questions these crises typically trigger: Who's in charge? Who has
authority to make which decisions? What are the liability exposures of
various courses of action? And so on. One of the problems no one had
foreseen in Weyauwega was pet evacuation.
The evacuation ultimately lasted three weeks, rather than the day,
two days at most, projected at the outset. When people vacated their
homes on the morning of the mishap, they'd left their pets behind. As
the days and weeks wore on, they grew worried and wanted to retrieve
their pets. But if people went into the "hot zone" and a tank exploded,
they could be harmed, even killed. Another issue was that sending in
rescue personnel alone might yield limited success, as animals might not
come to strangers.
"We looked at the legal questions," Milsap says. "How can we get
people in there? How do we reduce the risks? There were a lot of
questions that sometimes required legal interpretations of the statutes
or just creative thinking."
In the end, the officials in charge decided to bus in the pet owners,
who'd signed liability releases, to an area outside the hot zone. From
there, National Guard personnel drove people to their homes in armored
vehicles. They pulled up at each house, let pet owners dash in to grab
their animals, and quickly escaped back to safety. No one got hurt in
"We'd never had a long-term evacuation like that before," Milsap
points out. "But now in our emergency preparedness plans, we cover how
to deal with pet evacuations."
Similarly, state emergency preparedness plans also will incorporate
lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, Katrina is the
post-doctoral seminar in emergency preparedness.
"It was an eye-opening experience on mass evacuation issues we'd
never seen before," Milsap notes. "Who would have believed the gridlock
on the roads? The special-needs populations that couldn't be evacuated
because nobody had planned for that? What would we do here? What if we
had to evacuate a major city in Wisconsin, or if we had an incident in a
neighboring state and people got sent here?"
Other problems during Katrina lay in the details. For instance, some
doctors and nurses decided on their own to fly or drive into
Katrina-affected areas to help. "And then they sat around and handed out
Band-Aids," Milsap says, "because there was no one there to accept
credentialing of their licensure. Local officials would ask, `How do I
know you're really a doctor?'"
Sure, in an emergency, they might not have bothered to ask such
questions, taking whatever help they could get. "But that's a local
call," Milsap points out. Lesson learned: Have a person on site charged
with the task of verifying medical training credentials.
Dealing with "what if" disaster-planning scenarios is just one of
Milsap's functions. She's also involved in the "what now" issues that
spring up in the midst of a disaster or during the recovery phase. Her
job is to be the answer person regarding legal questions.
Once a local event is declared a disaster that requires coordination
and assistance of state agencies, the State Emergency Operations Center
(EOC) in Madison is activated, assembling state experts to aid in the
response. The state EOC, pictured above, coordinated Wisconsin's
response and recovery efforts on behalf of Hurricane Katrina
For instance, mobile homes left overturned in the wake of a tornado
later need to be reconnected to water sources. "The municipal attorney
or corporate counsel might call me," Milsap says, "because they can't
get the permit to come through quickly enough. But you can circumvent
the permitting process in a state of emergency. It's things like that. I
can tell them what they can do and how they can do it."
Legal complications arising during an emergency response "vary by
disaster," Milsap explains. "There's `good samaritan' law. There are a
lot of liability questions. The statutes have specific language with
regard to response teams and what happens if a volunteer gets
And, yes, sometimes people involved in disaster response or recovery
aren't keen on having a lawyer's input. Responders on the scene are
eager to get to work to help people.
"The last thing they want to hear," Milsap notes, "is someone saying,
'Well, legally you need to be in your scope of authority or your scope
of employment.' They don't want to hear that, but their municipal
officials and municipal attorneys want to hear that. They want to make
sure their people are taken care of and covered" for liabilities and
Every disaster response is, of course, replete with risks. Milsap's
role is to make sure decision-makers understand what those risks are. "I
advise people on their options," she says. "I don't tell them what to
do. They have to assume the risks. But they at least have to make
informed decisions. Part of that is knowing what exposures are out
For Milsap, the most frustrating parts of her job are that "there
aren't enough hours in the day," she says, "and sometimes I'm hitting my
head against the wall, thinking, `How can I make this happen?'"
More than anything, she sees her primary role as being a
problem-solver. "A lot of it," she says, "is just knowing what you can
and can't do. I try to figure out how you can work within the confines
of the statutes and the law to help people."
And that's where the gratification enters in. "If I give them a
suggestion," Milsap says, "and they take me up on it and it works, then
I know I've helped. That's the satisfaction. I see my job as trying to
make the law work for people."
Messages from Gulf Coast Lawyers
Three State Bar members tell what it's like to live and practice
in Gulf Coast communities hard hit by Hurricanes Katrina and
One hundred sixty-seven State Bar of Wisconsin members live and
practice in communities in Gulf Coast states hit by recent hurricanes.
State Bar staff attempted to contact these attorneys to inquire about
their welfare and what their fellow Bar members could do to help. Here
three people share their stories of how they - and the legal system in
general - are faring in the hurricanes' aftermath.
Rebounding in Biloxi
In the coastal city of Biloxi, Miss., many small law firms and sole
practitioners had offices downtown, near the county courthouse. "Their
offices were just washed away," says Patricia Dicke, who has practiced
law in Biloxi for six years. She's a Two Rivers, Wis., native and
graduate of Capital University Law School, Columbus, Ohio.
A couple of weeks after Hurricane Katrina, one displaced attorney in
the area parked a recreational vehicle along I-90, with his law office
sign on display to let people know he was open for business. "We're
seeing all kinds of ingenuity," Dicke says. The Mississippi Bar also has
set up computer-equipped office centers to help attorneys resume their
Dicke's law firm - which has 20 attorneys in a Biloxi office and 10
attorneys in an office in Jackson, Miss. - was more fortunate. The
Biloxi office, where Dicke works, reopened two weeks after Hurricane
"We're about three blocks from the Gulf of Mexico," she reports. "The
storm debris line stopped in our back parking lot." The storm did
extensive roof damage and blew out windows. All office computers and
servers, which had been wrapped in plastic, survived the storm. Many
paper files had to be dried out.
"I do mass tort defense work all over the state," Dicke says. "About
a year-and-a-half ago we started a system in which we scan every piece
of paper that comes in. Even if we'd lost the paper files, we would have
had our materials accessible" electronically. The firm also had back-up
tapes of office records located off site on high ground.
The Mississippi Supreme Court issued an emergency order staying all
trials and discovery until Oct. 31. Still, court officials say it will
be many more months before jury trials can resume because people will
continue to be unavailable to serve as jurors. Missing witnesses and
lost evidence compound the problems.
Many of Dicke's coworkers lost their homes entirely. Her home
suffered mostly roof damage, and she's had friends staying with her who
lost their home. They'll probably end up in a FEMA trailer parked in
Dicke's driveway for several months.
While New Orleans has been, understandably, a focus of attention,
"One of the problems we're having is that people aren't as aware of the
devastation in southern Mississippi," Dicke says. "We need a lot of
money here to rebuild."
The first time Mike Schneider was able to get back into his New
Orleans office, located across the street from the federal courthouse,
the building still had no electricity. "It must have been 100 degrees in
there," he recalls. "I was gathering stuff and throwing it in boxes,
holding a flashlight in my teeth."
Fortunately, Schneider needed to retrieve only some case files and a
few printers, thanks to advance planning. A Milwaukee native and
Marquette University Law School graduate, Schneider is a senior staff
attorney for the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which
encompasses Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
Before Katrina hit, the court office's nine support staff and 56
attorneys evacuated and put their continuity-of-operations plan into
motion. "We'd practiced working from remote locations on and off for
about a year," Schneider reports.
The attorneys grabbed a few cases apiece, along with their laptops.
With all telephones and cell phones out, the attorneys were able to
rendezvous later via laptops from scattered locations. A core group,
including 10 attorneys and all the support staff, is now working with
Schneider in a temporary office in the federal courthouse in Houston,
300 miles from New Orleans. The other attorneys are working from their
homes or federal courthouses in other cities. Everyone was up and
running about two weeks after Katrina.
"If there's a lesson in this, it's preparation," Schneider says.
"Everybody probably laughed when we were practicing [the plan]. But it
came in handy when we needed it. Everyone knew what to do."
Still, the hurricane took a heavy personal toll. Schneider and his
coworkers all had homes damaged and, in some cases, completely
destroyed. Some will never return to live in their old neighborhoods,
now heavily polluted.
As for their workplace, the New Orleans building in which their
office was located suffered wind and water damage, but was outside the
hardest-hit areas. It will be many months, however, before Schneider and
the others return to work there.
"It's hard to measure it in time; it's in milestones," he says. "We
have to wait until there's water, sewage service, hotels to put up the
judges and attorneys who come in to hear and argue cases. All those
things have to be in place before we can go back."
LaVerta Lundy, a U.W. Law School graduate, finally was able to return
to see her New Orleans home on Oct. 1, nearly five weeks after vacating
it. She found the house still standing, but uninhabitable and
unrepairable. "The mildew and mold now live in my house," Lundy says.
"My family and I can never live in our house again."
She and her husband lost everything, except for the few books and
photographs they were able to salvage. They're staying with relatives in
Ruston, La., 300 miles north of New Orleans. A son who'd been attending
Dillard University in New Orleans is now one of the displaced students
accepted by Howard University in Washington, D.C. Another son is an
Atlanta resident, and a third son worked for a New Orleans company that
filed bankruptcy after Hurricane Katrina.
Lundy hopes to return to her job at Dillard University, a
135-year-old college originally established for black students, where
she's an assistant professor of English (she holds a master's in English
from the U.W., as well as a law degree). Because of heavy student
interest in law, Lundy created a course called Law, Literature, and
Research. "I am happy to say that many of my students have been accepted
into accredited law schools," she says. She also teaches a media law
class in the journalism school and was in the process of creating a
minor in legal studies at Dillard.
But it will be some time before she's back to work. The college,
situated near one of the broken levees, suffered the worst losses of any
of New Orleans' universities, exacerbated by the fact that the school
couldn't afford flood insurance premiums. Dillard University plans to
resume classes perhaps as early as January 2006 in temporary space
provided by Tulane University.
For Lundy, getting back to work also will require finding a new place
to live in New Orleans, as well as replacing the computer equipment and
teaching materials lost in the flooding of her campus office. Like many
New Orleans residents, she's met frustration in collecting on the
property and flood insurance claims on her home. She finally got an
advance on her claims, which will help sustain her for a while.
"I feel blessed because I have seen people who only have a cot in a
shelter," she says. "That could have been me."
Meeting Evacuees' Legal Needs
Attorneys Tanner Kilander and Julie Darnieder set up a legal
clinic to help hurricane evacuees sheltered at State Fair Park. When the
shelter closes, they'll continue to coordinate volunteers to provide
hands-on legal assistance for evacuees and low-income people at the
Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic's House of Peace.
As hurricane evacuees have settled into Milwaukee, their needs for
legal assistance may only have begun. "I don't think the need is going
to taper off for months to come," says Tanner Kilander, a Milwaukee
attorney who helped organize the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic's help
desk at the State Fair Park shelter, where some 600 evacuees lived on
first arriving in Milwaukee.
"Legal needs are not the first thing on people's minds," she says.
"They're more concerned about food, shelter, and jobs. But as those
things have started to fall into place, we're seeing an increase in
traffic flow at the shelter clinic."
Kilander and fellow Milwaukee attorney Julie Darnieder are both on
the steering committee of the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, which
regularly provides legal assistance at the House of Peace community
center. The two women coordinated the effort to recruit lawyer
volunteers to cover two 90-minute shifts at the State Fair Park shelter
clinic, four days a week, beginning Sept. 19.
"A lot of people needed help interpreting their insurance policies,"
Kilander says, "and they needed help maneuvering around in systems
they're not used to. We also had folks who came in and said, `I had a
court date scheduled in September, but I can't find my lawyer and I
don't know if the court is meeting. I don't know what to do. Can you
By early October, about 200 evacuees remained at the State Fair Park,
with the rest finding other housing. But the latter were continuing to
return to the shelter clinic for legal assistance. Now with the Red
Cross closing the shelter at the end of October, the legal clinic will
relocate to the House of Peace.
The House of Peace (HOP) will expand its hours to 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
each Tuesday. The HOP, located just a few blocks north of Marquette
University at 1702 W. Walnut St., has a structure similar to the State
Fair Park clinic - clients visit on a walk-in basis and volunteers
provide legal advice and referrals, but no ongoing representation. At
the HOP, each attorney is partnered with two law students who
participate in client interviews, assist with research, and do the
intake paperwork. Volunteer attorneys are needed to help staff the added
Evacuees' legal needs will continue to evolve, Kilander says.
Volunteer lawyers handle diverse and often unusual legal questions: Is
it proper service to send certified mail to a last-known address that
you know is under water? Do you need to pay rent for your apartment if
it's technically habitable, but there are armed guards outside who won't
let you in?
"We do a lot of, `Wow, I never thought of that,'" Kilander notes.
"But it's all researchable. We've been able to come up with advice, if
not a perfect answer, for most people who have questions." The State Bar
is providing free LexisNexis research and professional liability
coverage for volunteer attorneys.
"Like everyone, I wanted to help these folks who had been through
such tragedy," Kilander says. "Yes, I can send my money to the Red
Cross. But I have a skill, and I might as well use it. It's been nice to
offer these people something concrete."
To volunteer, contact Kilander at email@example.com
or (414) 640-8824.
From left, attorneys Julie Darnieder, James Brennan, Tanner Kilander,
and Jessica Abbott provide or help coordinate volunteer legal services
to hurricane evacuees at the Red Cross shelter at Milwaukee's State Fair
Park. Photo: Tony Anderson, Wisconsin Law Journal
Helping Gulf Coast Lawyers Resume
Wisconsin lawyer Ross Kodner wasted little time in assembling a
network of legal technologists and legal product vendors to help Gulf
Coast lawyers return to practice in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina
Gulf Coast attorneys face enormous challenges in reviving their law
practices. To assist them, Ross Kodner, senior legal technologist/CEO at
Milwaukee-based Microlaw, launched HelpKatrinaLawyers.org, a network of
"the top legal technologists and legal product vendors across North
America," Kodner says.
The group stood ready to volunteer within days after Hurricane
Katrina hit. "We quickly realized that immediately after the hurricane
and all the flooding," Kodner says, "people weren't thinking about
booting up their computers, billing time, and making money. They were
thinking about their families and the basics of life. As people started
figuring out that everybody was okay, the requests started trickling
By early October, the group had assisted about a dozen attorneys, all
with small firms or sole practices. For instance, one New Orleans
attorney lost her entire practice, including her Internet service, and
was desperate to get in touch with her clients. Within 24 hours,
volunteers had created a Web site so she could reconnect with clients
and other attorneys, and then helped her rebuild her computer
Another attorney had an office in the heavily devastated ninth ward
of New Orleans. Before Katrina hit, he'd removed all his computers to
his home where he was attempting to set up a temporary office. "He
called us and said, `I've got all this stuff, but I don't know anything
about it. I don't even know where to plug in all these cables,'" Kodner
reports. "A few of us got on the phone with him and said, `Describe the
end of the cable. Tell us what it looks like.'" In that way, they talked
him through the process of reassembling his equipment and also worked
with Bell South to restore his broadband service.
"What we've been doing is triage," Kodner says, adding that he
expects requests for assistance will continue, perhaps increase, as
lawyers rebuild their livelihoods. The Louisiana State Bar Association
reports that at least one-third of all New Orleans lawyers are unable to
access their offices or resume their practices. Other Gulf Coast
attorneys also have had their practices severely disrupted.
Kodner adds that some people have asked why he's helping lawyers,
rather than "regular" people. "All the `regular' people are going to be
bombarded with legal problems," he points out. "So my sense was that the
best way to serve the public, given what I know how to do, was to get
the lawyers back in practice so they could help people. That is the
For more information, visit www.helpkatrinalawyers.org,
or contact Kodner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (414)
Help Hurricane Victims
In the coming months, hurricane victims will face complex legal
problems as they struggle to reclaim their lives. You can help. Find out
how. Visit www.WisBar.org.
To assist lawyers:
- Helpkatrinalawyers.org. Volunteer technological
expertise or donate legal products to help lawyers rebuild their
practices. Contact Ross Kodner at email@example.com, (414)
- American Bar Association. Offers comprehensive
information on helping lawyers recover their practices, including links
to local and state bar disaster-relief programs. www.abanet.org/katrina.
To assist the public:
- State Bar of Wisconsin. Coordinating free legal
services to displaced persons who relocate to Wisconsin. Contact Jeff Brown, (800) 444-9404, ext.
- Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic at Peace House.
Contact Tanner Kilander at (414) 640-8824, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- American Bar Association. Hurricane Katrina Web
site offers comprehensive information on helping citizens with their
legal issues. www.abanet.org/katrina.
Could Your Firm Recover?
To help your firm minimize damage and recover if the unthinkable
happens, visit the Law Practice
Management content area on WisBar for links to the following
resources and more:
- Risk Management articles from Wisconsin Lawyer magazine,
covering records management and disaster recovery
- "Planning for Disaster and Recovery is NOT Optional," Wisconsin
Lawyer article by Ross Kodner, steps to take before a disaster
- ABA Division for Bar Services Web Disaster Relief Resources,
including disaster planning practice management resources, relief
resources, and more
- Disaster Recovery: Steps to Take in Recovery Effort, from the
Tennessee Bar Association
- LawNet Inc. White Papers: Disaster Preparedness/Disaster Recovery,
articles on disaster-related topics
- Legal Management Resource Center Documents, articles from the
Association of Legal Administrators' Legal Management Resource
Dianne Molvig operates Access Information Service, a Madison writing
and editing service. She is a frequent contributor to area