In the days, weeks, and months following Hurricane Katrina, there were many concerns at the top of people’s minds. The welfare of the Louisiana legal system, however, was probably not one of the concerns keeping people awake at night.
Yet Katrina’s reach did extend that far, displacing lawyers and affecting those who needed legal aid in the wake of the hurricane. Enter Frank Neuner, Jr., a 1976 graduate of the LSU Law Center and a managing partner of Laborde & Neuner in Lafayette.
Lafayette had luckily escaped the carnage of Hurricane Katrina and shortly thereafter, Hurricane Rita. Seeing a need in the legal community, Neuner and his associates answered the call.
“My law firm was up and running. We had available office space and we were able to house most of the (Louisiana State Bar Association) here at our office for more than two months following Hurricane Katrina,” Neuner said. “I also realized that more than half of the practicing lawyers in the state were displaced from their homes and offices for more than 30 days after the storm.
“I saw a real need to assist them with communication and eventually with small stipends to get them back on their feet.”
For these and other efforts, Neuner was named the 2008 Law Center Distinguished Alumnus of the Year by Chancellor Jack M. Weiss, joining the likes of Judge Alvin B. Rubin, Senator Russell B. Long, J. Bennett Johnston, and Patrick A. Juneau. The award is given annually to an alumnus who exemplifies the highest quality and ethical standards of the legal profession. It also recognizes personal and professional achievements, as well as loyalty to the LSU Law Center.
Neuner will be honored Thursday, October 30 at a ceremony in New Orleans.
“Frank has excelled in many legal and leadership arenas that bring credit both to the Law Center and the profession, but maybe none greater than his contribution as president of the Louisiana State Bar Association during the time of the 2005 hurricanes,” said Judge Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, a 1970 graduate of the LSU Law Center and the 1999 Distinguished Alumna of the Year.
“At a time when lawyers, clients, files, offices and court systems were in significant disarray in a large part of Louisiana, Frank worked tirelessly to restore the functioning of the legal system. At the same time, (he was) shepherding the numerous contributions of members of the bar to others ravaged by these storms.”
A large part of Neuner’s work following the hurricanes involved communication. Consequently, Neuner said he and his associates were lucky to have the help of volunteers from the Texas Bar Association who spent their Labor Day weekend helping to set up a webpage where lawyers could find their clients and vice versa.
A call center was also established within the Law Center, and Neuner worked with Beth Abramson, a representative from the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Division and FEMA, who was displaced herself, to set up the hotline.
“I saw this as a type of clinical project that could involve giving law students practical experience while helping hurricane victims at the same time,” Neuner said. “Another project we initiated, with the help of Mike Rubin and the Disaster Task Force, which he chaired, was offering grants for attorneys in need. The $500 grants were awarded to attorneys who expressed intent to continue practicing in Louisiana.
“While the amount may not seem like much,” added Neuner, “for someone in need, it was a real benefit. I believe it proved to many of the recipients that the LSBA cares about them and can provide useful benefits to them.”
In St. Bernard Parish, Neuner and the LSBA helped set up a temporary office center for 80 practicing attorneys who had their offices destroyed by Katrina. They rented an office trailer and equipped it for the lawyers to use free of charge. The trailer was put on location in January 2006 and remained there until April 2007.
In addition, monies were raised for three public defender positions in New Orleans, a study by the National Legal Aid & Defenders Association of the criminal justice system and indigent defenders office in New Orleans, and a co-sponsored conference on indigent defense in Louisiana with Yale Law School.
“For more than three months, I’d be surprised if the majority of Frank’s waking hours, seven days a week, weren’t spent on helping lawyers and preserving an effective legal system,” said Jim Roy, LSU Board of Supervisors member and a 1976 graduate of the LSU Law Center.
Recently, Neuner was appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal as chair of the Public Defender Board. He continues to work on improving the criminal justice system throughout the state with a primary emphasis on New Orleans and the areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.