Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of people — and thousands of court cases to move to Houston. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is based in New Orleans but is in the process of setting up offices and a courtroom in the federal courthouse downtown.
Close to 200 employees of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit are attempting to settle into the little available space in the federal courthouse. There was never a solid plan to relocate to Houston, but the clerk of the courts evacuated here to stay with family and the rest of the court followed. Facilities Director Jesse Cannon says they’re moving into unused spaces in the courthouse, but many of the rooms need major improvements.
The court had an emergency plan, so employees knew what documents needed to be carried out, who the essential personnel are and who to call after evacuating. But Chief Judge Carolyn King says the emergency plan was marvelous in what it anticipated, but it failed to take into account things like access to schools.
The court is adjusting to the limitations and will be open for cases on Wednesday. Clerk of the Court Fritz Fulbrugge says they anticipate a huge influx of case filings when they reopen and the next few weeks will likely be busy and stressful for the employees.
Chief Judge King says she plans to keep the court here in Houston for at least three months and maybe longer. They can’t move back to New Orleans until enough infrastructure and safe housing is available for her 200 employees.