Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Some 70 McGeorge Students Volunteering in New Orleans Over Winter Break (And Maybe You Are On-Deck to Help Too)
Posted by Alan Childress
A follow-up to our previous posts (here, here) on serious criminal defense issues in post-Katrina New Orleans: There may be some good news on the way to help Tulane's and Loyola's clinics (including Loyola's Steve Singer, acting as the PD's chief of trials) to address the backlog of unrepresented and under-represented defendants. It comes in the shape of volunteer law students and lawyers from all over the country. Many of them, and lots of other worthwhile projects along the Gulf Coast, are coordinated through the larger Student Hurricane Network. [More on the impressive SHN volunteer effort, and your place in it, beneath the fold.]
For example, today's Sacramento Bee is reporting this inspiring story about some 70 McGeorge law students organized to lend a hand (intake, interviews, etc.) Dec. 14-22. Writes the Bee's Eric Stern, "They'll help patch a criminal justice system that remains in tatters a year and a half after evidence and records were destroyed by the flooding. Inmates were displaced across the region, and the newly arrested and accused haven't seen lawyers yet."
There's a huge and continuing need: some 3500 inmates' cases are pending, with a dozen or fewer PDs to represent them. Some defendants are already overstaying their possible prison term and need to be identified as soon as possible. In an interview this summer (in this thorough story from the San Diego Union-Tribune), Singer made clear that the system had many holes before the storm that needed plugging even then: “I compare it to the levees. ...They were always substandard but nobody realized it until the hurricane came. The same thing with the criminal justice system. It was always substandard. It was less obvious unless you were in it.” The new pro bono assistance is essential and welcome, but no one mistakes it for the structural, funding, and programmatic reform that has been needed for some time--an exigency the storm laid bare.
Where to go from here, on these issues and others needing human capital help?
As for further volunteer needs in law and administration throughout the affected Gulf Coast area, the Student Hurricane Network writes that it "is currently working to facilitate winter break student trips. If you want to organize a trip from your school or would like to help with planning, please contact us at [email link]." SHN already has an impressive mission, record, and community [see its About SHN page and photos], led by driven and responsible law students, such as Tulane's Morgan Williams. Criminal defense is only one aspect of its attention and care. Its efforts have been reported on by the ABA Law Student Division here and several law school newspaper or website stories, such as this one from Brooklyn Law School, as well as law student websites such as these volunteers from the University of Oregon.
... And it is not too early to be thinking about spring break! The SHN also needs coordination and committee leadership help from people who may not necessarily travel.