Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, October 28, 2003


Page 1


Fires Spark Action in San Bernardino Legal Community


By J’AMY PACHECO, Staff Writer


San Bernardino’s legal community scrambled yesterday to operate in the wake of the region’s devastating fires and to provide assistance to attorneys displaced by evacuation of the mountain communities.

The Twin Peaks courthouse, located in the mountain region jeopardized by the “Old Fire,” was scheduled for closure through at least Oct. 31 and cases were diverted to the Central District in San Bernardino. Court Executive Officer Tressa Kentner said no damage to the courthouse had been reported as of yesterday afternoon.

The Big Bear courthouse remained open, but Kentner said a plan had been put in place in the event the Big Bear area was evacuated.

Presiding Judge J. Michael Welch issued an emergency order for cases to be heard countywide on an emergency basis yesterday and today. The order called for “preliminary hearings and criminal jury trials with time running, family law restraining orders, domestic violence restraining orders, delinquency and dependency detention hearings and other cases that in the court’s discretion should be handled on an emergency basis” to be given priority.

Kentner said the order was given countywide because of the “fickle” nature of the disaster.

“Judge Welch wanted everybody to understand the global nature of this situation,” she explained. Welch could not be reached for comment.

President Bush declared Southern California a disaster area yesterday, triggering the release of federal funds for victims of the fires.

The San Bernardino County Bar Association announced plans to work with the State Bar of California and the American Bar Association to quickly develop programs to aid fire victims needing legal assistance obtaining disaster relief.

The State Bar notified the SBCBA that it would set its Disaster Legal Services Plan in motion as soon as the president declared the region a disaster area.

Donnasue Ortiz, newly-installed president of the SBCBA, said her organization hopes to meet with local city and county representatives to determine how lawyers can be of assistance.

Ortiz was installed Thursday night at Etiwanda Gardens in the West End. Smoke and ash from the “Grand Prix” fire fell on the classic car show held during the event, and by the conclusion of the dinner, flames crawled down the mountainside north of the facility.

The following day, Ortiz said, her family evacuated their Alta Loma home. Homes located just a block from Ortiz’s house burned.

Gina Kershaw, president-elect of the Western San Bernardino County Bar Association, also was evacuated from her Etiwanda home. Friday morning, she said, the fire was “at the doorstep.” Kershaw’s home also survived.

The San Bernardino County Bar Association established an online “S.O.S.” bulletin board for its members to offer office space and other aid to colleagues displaced by the fires.

By yesterday evening, the bulletin board contained offers for aid ranging from office and conference space all over the region to temporary quarters for livestock.

A spokeswoman for the Riverside County Bar Association said that organization had received no calls from any of its members needing assistance. 

Sharon Hamrick, manager of the Foothill Communities Law and Justice Center in Rancho Cucamonga, said a planned “surprise” fire drill was cancelled Friday when the blaze raging in the foothills above the courthouse caused a power outage there. A swearing-in ceremony for Judge Janet Frangie went on as scheduled there Friday afternoon.

“It’s been business as usual so far,” Hamrick said.

Hamrick said she had been advised that some court personnel had lost their homes in the fires, and speculated that some kind of fundraising activities would be planned once the details were known.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company