by Katherine Lee Goyette
Hurricane Harvey became a Category 4 hurricane on August 25, 2017, hitting land hours later near Rockport, Texas at peak intensity. The same day, President Trump issued a Major Disaster Declaration for the state of Texas, which made federal funding available for emergency work, as well as individuals and businesses that sustained damage as a result of the hurricane.[i] Catastrophic inland flooding has occurred throughout the greater Houston area, where some areas received a record 51.88 inches of rain. On August 28th, Governor Abbott activated the entire Texas National Guard to respond to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, having recently issued his own Disaster Declaration for Texas counties suffering from severe flooding and wind damage.[ii]
The Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals issued an emergency order on August 28th, 2017 providing for the modification and suspension of court proceedings affected by Hurricane Harvey:
Court proceedings…throughout Texas may be affected by the disaster because of closures of courts and clerks’ offices and difficulties with access, travel, and communication by lawyers, parties, and others…Pursuant to Section 22.0035(b) of the Texas Government Code, all courts in Texas should consider disaster-caused delays as good cause for modifying or suspending all deadlines and procedures—whether prescribed by statute, rule, or order—in any case, civil or criminal.
The emergency order expires September 27th, 2017 unless otherwise extended by the Courts.[iii]
The following day, on August 29th, the Texas Supreme Court issued another order suspending the statutes of limitations in civil cases if claimants are able to show that the “disastrous conditions resulting from Hurricane Harvey prevented the timely filing of the claim despite the party’s and counsel’s diligent efforts.” The emergency order’s suspension extended only to the date on which it became reasonably possible to file the claim, and the order itself is set to expire September 28th, 2017.[iv]
The Texas Supreme Court also issued a second emergency order on August 29th permitting out-of-state lawyers to practice in Texas temporarily. An attorney licensed and in good standing in another U.S. jurisdiction would be permitted to practice law in Texas for six months in two circumstances:
(1) The attorney is displaced from the attorney’s home jurisdiction due to Hurricane Harvey and the attorney practices in Texas remotely as if the attorney were located in their home jurisdiction; or
(2) the attorney is retained by a legal-aid or pro bono program or a bar association that provides services to victims of Hurricane Harvey.[v]
Further, the attorney would remit a Registration for Temporary Practice from Texas form to the State Bar of Texas as soon as possible after arriving in Texas. Finally, the attorney would have to agree to abide by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and submit to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Texas and the State Bar of Texas.
Both Texas lawyers and non-Texas-barred lawyers alike can submit their information to volunteer their legal services to the survivors of Hurricane Harvey at:
State Bar of Texas: http://bit.ly/2vJSkpv
Houston Volunteer Lawyers: http://bit.ly/2wK39fK
Lawyers seeking to provide legal assistance should take note of the recently passed Texas House Bill 1774. The bill took effect September 1, 2017, and limits a homeowners’ ability to hold insurance companies accountable if the homeowner takes months or years to pay for a claim; or in circumstances where insurance companies underpay or wrongfully deny legitimate claims. The language of HB 1774 can be found here: http://bit.ly/2wKoGos
Disaster relief resources for attorneys and families affected by Hurricane Harvey are listed below.
DISASTER RELIEF RESOURCES FOR ATTORNEYS
List of Texas court closures & delays: http://www.txcourts.gov/court-closures-delays/
Creating a disaster readiness plan: http://texaslawpracticemanagement.com/how-to-brochures/topics-maintaining-practice/creating-disaster-readiness-plan/
Disaster Planning for Lawyers – Preparing, Reacting, & Resuming Life (State Bar of Texas Disaster Response Task Force): https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/images/disaster/dis_tx.pdf
American Bar Association podcast, “How can lawyers help Hurricane Harvey victims? Disaster response attorneys share tips”: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/podcast_monthly_episode_93
Possible upcoming volunteer trainings: The American Bar Association Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness members are discussing potential trainings and outreach opportunities with the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association (NHMA), the Texas Floodplain Managers Association, and the Harris County Flood Control: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/disaster.html
DISASTER RELIEF RESOURCES FOR FAMILIES
State Bar of Texas legal hotline: 1-800-504-7030
State Bar of Texas resources: https://www.texasbar.com/Content/NavigationMenu/ForThePublic/FreeLegalInformation/FreeLegalInformation1/default.htm
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid: http://www.trla.org/disasters.
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Disaster Assistance Hotline: 1-866-757-1570 (Note: For southwest Texas, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Austin)
Pro Bono Texas: https://probonotexas.org
National Disaster Legal Aid, Hurricane Harvey: https://www.disasterlegalaid.org/txhurricaneharvey/
Lone Star Legal Aid: https://lonestarlegal.wordpress.com
Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS, State Bar of Texas): https://www.texasbar.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Lawyer_Referral_Service_LRIS_
Texas State Law Library self-help: https://www.sll.texas.gov/self-help
FEMA assistance application: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4332
Texas Department of Insurance FAQ’s: http://www.tdi.texas.gov/consumer/storms/helpafterharvey.html
Texas Law Help website, which provides free, reliable legal information to low-income Texans: https://texaslawhelp.org
Federal Disaster Assistance website: https://www.disasterassistance.gov/
“Harvey FAQ’s”, from Texas Watch: http://www.texaswatch.org/blog/harvey-faqs
2017 Referral Directory – Legal Services and Other Resources for Low-Income Texans, published by the Legal Access Division of the State Bar of Texas (provides a book of statewide legal services, per-county organizations, and statewide self-help resources): https://www.texasbar.com/Content/NavigationMenu/LawyersGivingBack/LegalAccessDivision/ReferralDirectory.pdf
[i] Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, “President Donald J. Trump Approves Major Disaster Declaration for Texas,” Press Release No. HQ-17-060, August 25, 2017, at https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/08/25/president-donald-j-trump-approves-major-disaster-declaration-texas.
[ii] Office of the Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Proclamation, “Governor Abbott Again Adds Additional Counties for Hurricane Harvey Disaster Declaration, August 28, 2017 at https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-again-adds-additional-counties-for-hurricane-harvey-disaste. The affected counties included in Governor Abbott’s Texas Disaster Declaration are as follows: Aransas, Atascosa, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Bexar, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Colorado, Comal, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kerr, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Madison, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Polk, Refugio, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Washington, Wharton, Willacy and Wilson.
[iii] Supreme Court of Texas and Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, “Emergency Order Authorizing Modification and Suspension of Court Procedures in Proceedings Affected by Disaster,” Misc. Docket No. 17-010, August 28th, 2017 at http://www.txcourts.gov/media/1438759/179091.pdf.
[v] Supreme Court of Texas, “Emergency Order After Hurricane Harvey Permitting Out-of-State Lawyers to Practice in Texas Temporarily,” Misc. Docket No. 17-9099, August 29, 2017 at http://www.txcourts.gov/media/1438805/179099.pdf.