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TCL > January 2014 Issue > When the Goin’ Gets Tough, the Bar Gets Goin’

January 2014       Vol. 43, No. 1       Page  5
In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

When the Goin’ Gets Tough, the Bar Gets Goin’
by W. Terry Ruckriegle


Colorado was hit hard with natural disasters in 2013. First, there were the spring wildfires, which affected many residential areas on the heels of the extensive wildfires of 2012. Then, and most recent, there were the floods resulting from the unusually intense rainstorms in September.

Although the fires were devastating, the vast area and extent of financial damage from the floods was record-breaking. In response to the needs of many Coloradans, the CBA partnered with several organizations to establish the Colorado Flood Legal Relief Task Force (Task Force). From there, a helpline—(855) 424-5347—and a website——were created.

I want to share with you information behind the monumental effort put forth by bar members, staff, and numerous attorney organizations related to the Task Force. I interviewed four individuals who initiated and maintained the gathering of resources to make the flood legal relief effort a success.

Ahead of the Effort—Behind the Scenes

Philip Mervis serves as staff attorney for the Fifth Judicial District Courts. His primary responsibility is to provide research and writing assistance to the district court judges in civil litigation matters. However, there was a time when he was drafted into service on a particular criminal matter entitled People v. Kobe Bean Bryant. His technological skills helped pave the way for the national standard of posting pleadings on the Internet in high-profile cases to allow access by the public and media. Look for a profile of Mervis in the February issue of The Colorado Lawyer.

Sharon Mohr currently is on staff at the CBA and coordinates the flood legal relief efforts. She monitors the flood relief helpline, manages the volunteers and case assignments, monitors the website, and manages the FEMA appeals clinic. She previously founded and ran a nonprofit called Elder Justice Colorado, which provided free and low-cost legal services to low-income seniors in the Denver metro area. Mohr also supplied details, information, and statistics about the flood legal relief effort for this article, for which I am most grateful.

Margrit Parker is an attorney with Kennedy Childs P.C. in Denver, practicing professional liability defense of licensed professionals, including medical and legal malpractice. She also represents clients in employment law matters. Parker was heavily involved in creating the helpline for the wildfires and immediately volunteered to participate in the flood relief efforts. She used her extensive experience from the CBA disaster relief efforts for wildfires as a basis for rapidly mobilizing the flood relief team and volunteers.

Lance Timbreza practices law in Grand Junction at Traylor, Tompkins & Black, P.C., where he focuses primarily on commercial and real estate litigation. He is chair-elect of the CBA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and serves as the American Bar Association (ABA) YLD District Representative for Colorado and Wyoming. He was contacted by the ABA Disaster Legal Services director and representatives to activate the flood relief effort in Colorado.

Gathering the Resources

The national and local initiative for collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began a few decades ago. Even before the recent fires and floods, Parker’s job as ABA YLD Representative in 2009 through 2011 was to ensure that Colorado had a current disaster legal response manual in place. That is precisely what she did when she discovered Colorado’s manual had not been updated since 1994. In 2011, a working group of attorneys from the CBA, the Denver Bar Association (DBA), Colorado Legal Services (CLS), and the CBA YLD created an updated legal relief manual that became the template for disaster assistance during the wildfires and, now, the floods.

Timbreza explained that FEMA provides disaster legal services in conjunction with state and local bar associations, through a Memorandum of Understanding entered into with the ABA YLD. Once President Obama declared certain flooded portions of Colorado to be a natural disaster, the ABA YLD was charged with setting up a helpline within forty-eight hours.

On September 17, 2013, after a flurry of calls and e-mail exchanges, a group of bar leaders, along with attorneys and staff from several legal associations, conducted a conference call on how the CBA could participate in assisting flood victims. Representatives from CLS, the Colorado Legal Aid Foundation, the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, the Association of Corporate Counsel, Metro Volunteer Lawyers, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Colorado Spanish-Speaking Lawyers, CBA sections and committees, and many local bar associations participated in the continuing discussion about development of the relief effort.

Movement Toward Action

The two most pivotal decisions the Task Force made were to create a website and to bring on a staff person at the CBA to spearhead the flood legal relief efforts. The Task Force did more than just set up a helpline as required by FEMA; Mervis worked around the clock and—amazingly—had the initial website up and running in twenty-four hours. Using what he learned from the CBA’s efforts to assist fire victims, he worked toward developing a website that would remove some of the obstacles to receiving or providing assistance. He believed that Web access and presence would enhance participation among victims and attorneys, allow for online data collection, and alleviate some of the burden that had been placed on attorneys and staff during the wildfire relief efforts. Further, according to Mervis, the website "allows the CBA to share flood-related legal information with the public through content summaries and news updates." For his part, Timbreza considers the website to be "the lifeblood" of this relief effort. He said, "I think it will set the standard for disaster legal relief going forward."

When the floods occurred, Mohr told me, "I received a phone call from Kath Schoen [the CBA Director of Local Bar Relations and Access to Justice] on September 18, 2013, about the immediate need for a program coordinator, and I was able to begin work on the flood efforts [at the CBA] on September 19." According to Mohr, her initial focus was to get attorney volunteers to sign up and to create a system and procedure for the helpline to make it possible to respond effectively to the increasing need for legal assistance. The CBA assisted by sending e-mails to bar members, targeting various sections and enlisting their help. In the first week alone after the floods, more than 165 attorneys volunteered, and the helpline received 101 requests for legal assistance.

Helpline and Website at Work

The Task Force helpline is staffed between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. weekdays. Although it is not monitored on nights or weekends, callers are given the option to leave a voicemail message and are directed to the website where they can submit an online request for assistance.

A victim is paired with a volunteer attorney who specializes in the area of law in which they are requesting legal assistance. The attorney is asked to make contact with the requesting party within twenty-four hours to provide initial guidance and advice, as well as give referrals to both legal and non-legal resources.

The website has streamlined the intake process and made tracking the cases and volunteers simple and efficient. In Mohr’s estimation, one of the best features of the website is that multiple users from various locations can access the system at the same time. Thus, remote and local support is ongoing.

The team envisions providing a robust and thorough website that will allow for a smooth transition from the helpline and the volunteer services to relevant and helpful online legal services. Timbreza said that the FEMA representative assigned to Colorado’s flood disaster commented that this was the most effective and impressive use of a website for relief assistance purposes that she had seen during her twenty years with FEMA.

Up and Running

The CBA has responded quickly and creatively to the various needs of the flood victims. The needs are ever changing, as Mohr explained, and the CBA has relied on a variety of partners in creating solutions. First, there was a large influx of calls and online requests to the helpline for short-term, immediate legal assistance. As time passed, Mohr explained, the team quickly saw that a need existed for a limited-scope representation with FEMA appeals. As a consequence, the FEMA appeals clinic was created. This has been especially beneficial, given the paucity of attorneys and staff in the community who have experience with the FEMA administrative process.

Particularly noteworthy is a response program for affected nonprofit organizations that has been established through the Colorado Lawyer’s Committee. Nonprofits can request legal assistance through the Colorado Nonprofit Association pro bono program, using a link on the Flood Legal Relief website.

On November 26, 2013, a team of five volunteer attorneys attended a Greeley Legal Night clinic geared toward assisting flood victims. There were more than seventy attendees at the clinic, with approximately twenty of them having flood-related needs. Mohr stated that the clinic was a success. She added that one of the challenges moving forward is providing options for legal assistance in the immigrant communities such as Evans in Weld County.

Perhaps the most unique requests for assistance have come from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). DOLA requested volunteer attorneys for two distinct purposes: (1) to assist the City of Jamestown with lot-line changes and condemnation buyouts; and (2) to serve on an interdisciplinary task force, with the mission of helping Jamestown come to a selection of a mitigation and redevelopment master plan.

Learning From Others

The monumental efforts put forth by our attorneys in Colorado would not have been as successful without assistance and guidance from professionals in other states who have been similarly affected by natural disasters. The CBA team has received tremendous assistance from folks at the New York and New Jersey Bar Associations in particular. These two bars have been supplying current best practices acquired during their Hurricane Sandy Relief efforts. Additionally, the Oklahoma Bar Association provided support gained from its online tornado relief efforts, and disaster resources in Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Vermont proved helpful. Mohr noted that "the biggest help was the FEMA training, materials, and resources provided by the other states, because we had no prior experience with this area of law."

The CBA also relied heavily on its membership to provide training materials and CLE programs for the attorney volunteers. Volunteer experts in areas such as insurance, landlord/tenant, and construction law came together, and within two weeks of the disaster, provided memos, live CLE presentations, and other helpful assistance. Mohr said that one of the biggest challenges was that many of the volunteer attorneys did not have experience in the areas of the law related to the flooding. Further, FEMA is a specialized area in which few lawyers have experience. The CBA brought Zach Tusinger (a former Equal Justice Works Disaster Legal Fellow) from the Joplin Missouri area to present a FEMA training for volunteers and to help set up the FEMA appeals clinic. He answered questions from volunteer attorneys on the listserv, assisted attorneys on current FEMA cases, and provided numerous documents and forms for future use by attorneys and victims.

Facts, Figures, and Future

The Colorado Flood Legal Relief Helpline and website have been successful beyond anticipation. As of December 3, 2013, approximately 418 flood survivors had submitted requests for legal advice, and an amazing 413 of them had been matched with an attorney or staffer to provide necessary legal advice or information. I?think you will share in my pride at such oustanding statistics!

The types of issues or cases the team of responders is facing is varied. Almost 50% of cases have involved landlord/tenant issues. Another 14% involved FEMA issues. Real estate and insurance issues constituted approximately 10% each.

Mohr observed that "we received advice on the life cycle of the helpline from disaster legal services programs in other states, and on how legal issues would change over time." Initially, landlord/tenant issues were at the top of the list. Next, insurance and contractor problems presented themselves. The team anticipated that, as flood victims returned to their homes and begin the building process, issues would involve complex insurance, foreclosure, bankruptcy, and land use and construction.

The Colorado legal community remains committed to continuing with the long-term disaster relief effort, including setting up clinics, recruiting volunteers to provide legal advice, and continuing to adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of the flood victims. Also, the Colorado Flood Legal Relief website continues to run smoothly under Mervis’s expert watch. I encourage you to visit I know you will find it remarkable and will take pride in the assistance being provided to those unfortunate citizens of Colorado who were victims of the floods. I also hope you might be willing and available to participate in this important effort.

CBA Thanks 2013 Colorado Flood Relief Volunteers

Stephen Abbott
William A. Ahlstrand
Matthew Altaras
Scott Alter
Hope Anastasakis
Hilary Anderson
Maria Antill
Jean Arnold
Matthew Ashley
Aaron Atkinson
Anthony Austin
Jennifer Bailey
James Baird
William Baker
Edward Barad
Syntha Bayham
Danielle Beem
Martin Beier
Sean Bell
Heather Beller
Ted Bendelow
Sarah Benedict
Anne Bensard
Ryan Bergsieker
Mark Berry
Alan Blakley
Margaret Boehmer
Lisa Bowser
Angelina Bradley
Karen Brady
Troy Braegger
Laura Brauer
Christine Breen
Benjamin Brickweg
Benjamin Broder
Karen Brody
Jeff Brown
Cathy Brown
Nancy Buchanan
Chelsey Burns
Matt Busch
Courtney Butler
Daniel Butler
Martha Buyer
Becky Bye
Pamela Campos
John Carreras
Teresa Casillas
Alexandrea Castino
Martha Cecil Few
Sara Challinor
Charles Chapman
Mike Chiropolos
Grace Chisholm
Kristin Cisowski
Sarah Claassen
Roger Clark
Eben Clark
Alexander Clayden
Robin Cochran
Alonit Cohen
Diane Cohen
Mark Collier
Patrice Collins
Patrick Compton
Kathleen Cook
Kelly Crandall
Francis Cuddihee
John Cutler
Marilyn Davies
Michael Davis
Karen Dean
Cynthia Delaney
Lindsey Demrow
Dara Denson
Jerad Denton
Gregory Diamond
Bruce Dierking
Kristin Dittus
Christina Dixon
Kristi Dorr
Ben Doyle
Royce Dubiner
Sally Easter
Rebecca Easton
Hillary Ellis
Jeff Emberton
John Erickson
Heidi Ernst
Susan Esparolini
Diana Esposito
Martin Estevao
Constance Eyster
Joshua Finkelstein
Angela Fisher
Stewart Fleisher
Marcus Flinders
Douglas Fogler
Sue Fox
Joseph Fraser
Geoffrey Frazier
Lesli Freiberg
Mark Freirich
Chris Frenz
Jennifer Friednash
Rich Garcia
Gregory Garcia
Emma Garrison
Heidi Gassman
Tiffany Gengelbach
Steven Goldstein
Tamir Goldstein
Andrea Gomez Oxman
Ari Gould
Lisa Greenberg
Janice Greening
Jessen Gregory
William Groh
Levi Guthrie
Sean Hackett
Susan Hahn
Phil Harding
Tom Harris
Russell Haskell
Ryan Heatherman
Curtis Henry
Tamara Henry
William Hine-
Kurt Hofgard
Marcy Holland
Susan Horner
John V. Howard
Jim Hoy
Larry Hoyt
Mimi Hu
Jonathan Hummel
Andrew Hunter
Chris Hurley
Lance Isaac
Jeff Jackson
Matthew James
Chad Johnson
Peter Johnson
Karen Samuels Jones
Tara Jorfald
Anne Jorgensen
Gerald Jorgensen
Stephen Justino
Blair Kanis
Anne Kelson
Gregory Kerwin
Muliha Khan
Rich Kiely
Lindsey Killion
Eric Kintner
Cassandra Kirsch
Phil Klein
Mary Kloepfer
Julia Knearl
Lynda Knowles
Daniel M. Kowalski
  Michael Krueger
Robyn Kube
Karl Kumli
John Lahner
Lucy Lamprey
Chris Lane
Reagan Larkin
Karen Leaffer
Lisa Lee
Sanghun Lee
Michelle Leifeste
Sophia Lenz
James Lesuer
David Levy
Keith Lewis
Marla Lien
Megan Lindsey
Evan Lipstein
David Little
Erica Longnecker
Charles Longtine
Jennifer Lorenz
Natalie Lucas
Indra Lusero
Cyndi Lyden
Kelly Lynch
David Lytle
Michael Maciszewski
Rachel Maizes
Laura Makar
Felisa Marcia
Pamela Marden
James Martin
Joe Martinez
Grant Marylander
Anne Mayer
Cassandra McCasland
Janet McDaniel
Lori McKay
Phil Mervis
Davide Migliaccio
Lindsay Miller
Nancy Miller
Jim Mitchem
James Mock
Dana Mohr
April Moore
Ryan Morey
Jessica Morgan
John Mullan
Robert Murillo
Annie Murphy
Travsi Murtha
Skye Myers
Michele Garrick Nave
Kristin Nett
Lawrence Newman
Georgia Noriyuki
Erin O’Brien
Katherine O’Brien
Matthew Odom
Tracy Oldemeyer
James Oliver
Elizabeth Osborn
Lucia Padilla
Andrea Paprzycki
Brooke Pardee
Margrit Parker
Ravi Patel
Amber Paterson
Kim Perdue
Nancy Peterson
Rob Phillips
Andrew Pi
Ken Platt
Andrew Poland
Satima Porter
Carolyn Powell
Gerald Pratt
John P. Prentiss
Joshua Prok
John Putnam
Casey Quillen
R. Alex Raines
Alyssa Reed
Randal Reid
Chris Reiss
Ramon Rhymes
Emily Roberts
Colene Robinson
Erin Robson
Erica Rogers
Meredith Rose
Amy Rosenberg
Barbara Ross
Eric Rothauus
Kimberly Ruddell
Peter Rudy
Matt Runge
Sierra Russell
Shellie Ruston
Susan Ryan
Paul Sacco
Lisa Sahli
Dominick Saia
Christi Sanders
Bruce Sarbaugh
Jennifer Schaffner
Laurie Schmidt
Angela Schmitz
Frank Schuchat
Jennifer Scott
Richard Shearer
Edward Shindel
Gwendolyn J. Shotwell
Janne Siegel
William Silverman
David Simmons
Mason Smith
Mike Smith
Kimberly Sparks
Joel Spector
Sheela Stack
Todd Stahly
Rebecca Steinebrey
Gabriella Stockmayer
Cyndi Stovall
Daniel Sullivan
Steve Suneson
Amy Swanson
Christine Swenson
Steven Taffet
Debbie Taussig
Steven Taylor
Iman Tehrani
Jason Thacher
Euell Thomas
Pamela Thomas
Lance Timbreza
Andrew Toft
Dane Torbenson
Betty Tsamis
Douglas Tueller
Christopher Unger
Leia Ursery
William Van Dusen
Richard Vaughn
Mariana Vielma
Karen Walker
Kirsten Wander
David Warner
Christian Webert
Ann Wei
Tommy West
Margaret Wheltle
Malissa Williams
Jesse Witt
Eric Witte
James Wolverton
Mark Zaynard
Pete Ziemke


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