Thursday, November 6, 2003
Mountain Courts Survive Wildfires; Big Bear Courthouse Reopens
By J’AMY PACHECO, Staff Writer
The courthouse in Big Bear reopened yesterday, ahead of schedule, following the fires that last week devastated the San Bernardino mountains.
Court Executive Officer Tressa Kentner said the courthouse in Big Bear reopened but the Twin Peaks courthouse, which was not damaged in the fires, had not yet been scheduled to resume operations.
“It’s smoky and dirty,” Kentner explained, adding that no assessment of possible smoke damage to court equipment there was yet available.
Kentner said court calendars for Twin Peaks would continue to be heard in the San Bernardino District until that courthouse reopened. In addition to the building’s condition, Kentner said roads to the mountain court present a hazard for motorists.
Some of the roads lost their guardrails and have not yet been repaired.
“We don’t want to put people in a position of having to be up there for court appearances,” she explained.
Kentner said an order calling for cases to be heard on an emergency basis countywide was allowed to expire yesterday.
As the county began mopping up, the San Bernardino County Bar Association put out a call for lawyers to provide legal assistance to victims of the disaster.
Allen Turner, executive director for the SBCBA, said that organization would serve as a clearinghouse for fire victims in need of legal assistance. On Monday, Turner participated in a two-hour telephone meeting with representatives of the State Bar, the American Bar Association, Inland Counties Legal Services, the Legal Aid Society for San Bernardino, and other local bar associations to discuss plans for providing legal aid to fire victims.
Turner said volunteer attorneys are immediately needed to provide pro bono services Saturday during an event at the Feldheym Library in San Bernardino. From 10 a.m. until approximately 4 p.m., the SBCBA, the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino, and Inland Counties Legal Services, in conjunction with two Los Angeles law firms, will offer legal aid services for victims of the fires.
Speakers from the city of San Bernardino, FEMA, and other governmental agencies are expected to make presentations at the event, which will be televised. The speakers are expected to make their presentations on a wide variety of topics including tax implications, housing issues and fraud.
Roberta Shouse, director of the Legal Aid Society, said she was “delighted” that 15 attorneys from Los Angeles based Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, and Foley and Lardner, L.L.P. have offered to travel to San Bernardino to provide free consultations to fire victims. The firms contacted her to extend the offer.
“I think it’s amazing they’re willing to come down here to work with our local attorneys,” she stated. “It’s strictly on a pro bono basis.”
Joseph Ortiz, president of the SBCBA’s Barristers group issued a plea to local attorneys to participate in the event.
SBCBA President Donnasue Ortiz said she believes Saturday’s program is “just the beginning of potential services we will be looking at providing to fire victims.”
“We anticipate at least one or two additional pro bono legal services programs in the future to help advise people about fraud and insurance issues,” she said. “Victims are still learning what their problems are. I anticipate looking at this again in 30 days, 90 days, to see what else they might need.”
Turner said volunteer attorneys are also needed to provide legal assistance to county residents victimized by the fires at the Fire Emergency Legal Assistance Center at the San Bernardino International Airport.
Turner said part of the motivation is to “direct victims to legitimate resources and away from fraudulent practices.”
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office also announced attempts to protect fire victims from fraud in the wake of the fires. That office developed a brochure outlining the types of fraud that residents should watch for, and distributed brochures at evacuation sites, local hotels and senior centers.
Prosecutors charged three people Monday with looting in the fire zone. District Attorney Michael Ramos said in a written statement that his office is “taking looting cases very seriously.”
“We won’t have our residents, who have been victims of the fire, victimized again by looters,” he stated.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company