Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Attack Sends Courts, Legal Community Reeling
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Law offices in downtown and Century City were virtually deserted yesterday, and every state and federal courtroom in the county was dark by the afternoon, following the deadly attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
All federal courts here are to remain closed pending further assessment of security risks, but the Los Angeles Superior Court is slated to reopen for regular business today.
Presiding Judge James Bascue said he decided to close the massive Superior Court after a conference call with the Sheriff’s Department and county and court leaders shortly after four apparently hijacked commercial jetliners crashed on the East Coast, including two that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and one that damaged the Pentagon.
At least two of the flights were bound for Los Angeles, one from Boston and one from Newark.
The move to close the Superior Court was independent of Gov. Gray Davis’ order to close state office buildings around California. The Second District Court of Appeal, which heard oral arguments on the 9 a.m. calendar in downtown’s Ronald Reagan building but closed following Davis’ order canceling all “non-essential” business, were expected to reopen today.
After some initial confusion yesterday, two panels of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard argument on a total of nine cases at the court’s Pasadena location. A deputy U.S. marshal, who asked not to be named, said the decision to go ahead was made by court officials in San Francisco, where the courthouse was closed.
Judge Thomas G. Nelson, presiding over one of the panels, warned the lawyers that the court would strictly apply the time limits for argument, which it often doesn’t do.
The Pasadena court’s library was closed all day, however. And a sign reading “THE COURT BUILDING IS CLOSED TO PUBLIC ACCESS” was on the front door by the time the judges finished hearing cases, shortly before noon.
Clerk’s office personnel were given the choice of staying or going home for the day, courtroom deputy Robert Waggoner said.
Waggoner, who was assisting one of the panels hearing argument, said he felt safe due to the court’s location. The Richard H. Chambers U.S. Courthouse is located on a quiet street lined with single-family residences; there are no other government buildings or commercial properties in the immediate vicinity.
“Thankfully, nobody knows we’re here,” Waggoner said, adding that he had faith in the court’s security staff.
Similar sentiments were uttered by lawyers who spent the morning in the building waiting for the call of their cases at the end of the calendar.
John Kelly, a Woodland Hills lawyer there to argue a trademark infringement case, said he felt “reasonably secure” in Pasadena. He might not have if the court were still located in downtown Los Angeles, as it was years ago, he said.
Kelly’s opposing counsel, Jeffrey S. Kravitz, said he “felt that if there were any concern the building would have been closed.” The court, he said, “always errs on the side of safety.”
Kravitz, the managing partner of Lord, Bissell & Brook’s Los Angeles office, said he had called his firm’s Chicago office in the morning and that it was still open, but that he was unable to get through to the New York office. He said he had delegated to other senior members the responsibility for deciding whether to close the office here, and there was no answer when a reporter called there in the afternoon.
The attacks sent the local legal community reeling. Fire and security officials declined to order the closure of office buildings, but lawyers and their staffs in practically every large and medium-sized firm vacated their office towers in downtown and Century City even while the morning commuter rush into work was continuing.
Los Angeles firms with New York offices had little reliable information on casualties among their colleagues. Lance Jurich, managing partner for Loeb & Loeb’s Century City office, said the firm had decided to close most of its facilities around the world for the day.
At the firm’s New York office, he said, lawyers and staff were uninjured but remained in the building at 345 Park Avenue.
“I’m not sure what’s going on there,” Jurich said. “They don’t have any way to get home. Some of us are working here in Century City, but we are not requiring our people to stay in the building.”
Telephones went unanswered at most Los Angeles firms. Sharon Owen, office administrator for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Orange County office, said only that facility and the offices in Palo Alto and Washington, D.C. remained open for business. Gibson, Dunn closed its offices in downtown, Century City, San Francisco, Denver and Dallas.
Sterling Brennan, managing partner for Morrison & Foerster’s Irvine office, said the firm’s other offices in California were shuttered and that staff in Orange County were leaving for home as well.
“Probably on the West Coast it appears that the physical threat is not acute,” Brennan said. “There are a few people here, but we have told them it’s okay to be home with their families.”
Brennan added that it will take the legal community a while to come to grips with the tragedy, and noted that there would be concerns as well about the impact on the nation’s struggling capital markets.
“But my suspicion is that the American people will be fortified, and will rally,” he said.
G. Thomas McDonald, an Orange County solo practitioner based in Tustin, kept his office open but said he sent most of his staff home.
McDonald, who practices in both the federal and state courts, said while he did some paperwork, he spent most of the day watching CNN.
“The effect on our office has been the same as with everybody else—we’re at a standstill,” he stated. “We’ve been glued to the TV set to see what’s happening.”
In addition to the flights bound for Los Angeles, at least one was slated for San Francisco. The planes belonged to American Airlines and United Air Lines, and were popular flights among business travelers between the coasts.
State Bar officials were monitoring the airlines to get copies of passenger lists and check them against State Bar member records to determine the degree of impact on the state’s legal establishment. But as of yesterday evening, no passenger lists had been released.
In New York, confusion reigned over just who was lost in the destruction of the giant twin World Trade Center towers, which together housed about 50,000 people. The complex included a Marriott hotel, and a host of state government and financial services firms.
Frank Ciervo, associate director of the New York State Bar Association, said there were at most 400 lawyers with offices in the complex.
Directory searches located approximately 200 sole practitioners housed in the towers, along with the law firms of Thacher Proffitt & Wood; Harris Beach & Wilcox; Serko & Simon, Ohrenstein & Brown; Keenan Powers & Andrews; Drinker Biddle Reath; Blass & Driggs; Hill, Betts & Nash; and Brown & Wood, although the list is not exhaustive.
Business web site thedeal.com, part of a publication called “The Daily Deal,” reported that Thacher Proffitt & Wood paralegal Lisa J. Alfieri escaped death due to the late arrival of her subway train.
“If my train had arrived on time I would have been at the building at the time of the crash,” the site reported Alfieri as saying. “But this just wasn’t my time.”
Also housed in the complex were New York Court of Claims Judges Albert A. Blinder, Edward J. Amann Jr., Frank S. Rossetti, and Gerard M. Weisberg. The state office of court administration was located several hundred yards from the towers.
“I’m absolutely devastated,” Ciervo said. “It seems like this is our generation’s Pearl Harbor….It really brings the whole terrorist issue straight at you, whether you like it or not.”
In downtown Los Angeles’ Civic Center—the nation’s highest concentration of government offices outside Washington, D.C.—U.S. marshals quickly closed all federal buildings, including the U.S. District Courthouse at 312 N. Spring Street and the larger Roybal office complex.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Woolsey, a spokesman for the Marshal’s Service, said all federal buildings in the Central District—covering Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties—would remain closed today.
He said officials would “reevaluate the situation” this afternoon.
Bascue, who consulted with Judges Robert Dukes, R. Gary Klausner and Dan Oki and Executive Officer John Clarke before closing the courthouses, said he and others who remained in the Central Courthouse left for remote locations after a bomb threat against the structure came in by telephone.
The court’s nerve center briefly moved to the Juvenile Court building in Monterey Park, but returned to the Central Courthouse after the building was checked and the threat discounted.
The Second District Court of Appeal shut down after the conclusion of morning oral arguments, and it was unclear whether the court would reopen today. Div. Six of the court, located in Ventura, remained open for business into the afternoon but cancelled arguments.
Orange County trial courts remained open yesterday, Public Information Officer Carole Levitzky said. All six Orange County locations remained open and kept their jurors, she said.
“We are being extra sensitive to people’s requests to be excused,” she added. “But overall, it’s been business as usual.”
Levitzky said the presiding judge was briefed early in the day by Orange County Sheriff Mike Corona, and was assured that while law enforcement officials were “on tactical alert, there was no danger.”
In the event of a closure, Levitzky said, court officials would enact their “telephone tree,” and would also post information on the courts’ website at http://courts.oc.ca.gov.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Three, remained open while most other appellate courts closed.
A spokeswoman in the Clerk’s Office there said the court operated at normal capacity, and said court officials planned to open today as well.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. District Court in Riverside referred interested parties to a taped message at (213) 894-2485.
Mark Schnitzer, a partner in the San Bernardino firm Hanover & Schnitzer, said an attorney from his firm arrived at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for an 8:30 a.m. meeting, only to find it closed.
The Bankruptcy Court is located next to the U.S. District Court in Riverside, and telephones there went unanswered yesterday.
Schnitzer said he spoke to his son, a Baltimore attorney, about 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday and was told that the courthouse there was evacuated as his son delivered his closing argument earlier in the day.
He said a San Diego law firm involved in one of the firm’s cases advised him of evacuations in that city as well.
Schnitzer, a former president of the Inland Empire chapter of the Federal Bar Association, said he was scheduled to fly to Tucson this weekend for a national Federal Bar Association convention, slated to begin today. He said he was unable to reach anyone at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the FBA to find out if the event would take place, and pointed out that it was unlikely people would be able to fly in for the event.
Federal Bar Association President John Tobin called Tuesday “a horrible day in history,” and said there was a “very strong likelihood” that an Inland Empire FBA meeting scheduled for Friday—at the U.S. District Courthouse—would be cancelled.
Tobin said he and his organization will “work with the court in any way we can” to increase security at the courthouse. He said he also issued an email to the organization’s members urging them to donate blood.
Audrey Perri, a partner at Ontario-based Covington & Crowe, said she was supposed to fly to Washington on Thursday, and said she didn’t know what effect Tuesday’s events might have on the trip.
The firm remained open for business, she said, adding that partners allowed staff to take time off to deal with family needs or the emotional impact.
She said clients were calling to cancel appointments, and said she expected that to continue.
“I don’t know what the long-term impact will be, on us, or on any segment of society,” she said. “We’re all trying to deal with this, one moment at a time.
“I work in family law,” she added. “I wonder if this is going to put in perspective the kinds of problems I hear on a daily basis. They seem very small. I wonder if we will see any difference in relation to these events. I just don’t know at this point.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company