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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Yes, I knew about the hurricanes before I moved here!

[Reprinted from a post I left on Facebook at 11:09 p.m. on Thursday, August 24, 2017, as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas Gulf Coast:]

I was on Galveston Island for Tropical Storm Claudette in July 1979, which washed out the bridges to the mainland and forced a mid-trial recess in the jury trial I was helping out on as a summer law clerk.

Hurricane Allen greeted me a couple of days after I moved full-time to Houston in 1980; it was a record-setting Cat 5 over the Gulf and parts of Mexico but had diminished, fortunately, by the time it got here.

Buffalo Bayou flooding near downtown after Hurricane Alicia in August 1983

I had a jury deliberating in Judge Hugo Touche's 129th District Court in the old Civil Courts Building well into the late afternoon hours, as Hurricane Alicia approached on Thursday, August 18, 1983, with its eye already predicted — accurately, it turned out! — to pass directly over downtown Houston at about midnight. We'd done our closing arguments the prior afternoon, and our jury had started deliberating that morning at 9:00 a.m. Now we were the last folks in the courthouse; all the windows were taped, and some were boarded with plywood. But the edges of the blinds on some of the courtroom's windows still flashed red and white in crazy patterns — from the cherry-tops on the law enforcement vehicles parked to block the streets outside: Downtown Houston had been evacuated and its entrances barricaded by uniformed HPD officers.

The jury sent out a note which asked, pithily: "What happens if we don't reach a verdict before the Hurricane?"

Judge Touche wrote a reply which said, "If you cannot reach a verdict today, I will discharge you until next Tuesday." Being quite literal, the jurors interpreted "today" to mean "on this calendar day" — in other words, that he was planning to kept them deliberating until midnight! In fact, he was willing to let them go as soon as they wanted to, since it was already after 5pm. But with this incentive, we had a verdict in about four minutes. The time pressure helped move a holdout from the 9/3 vote in my client's favor that they'd been stuck on since noon, to the 10/2 required for a valid civil verdict.

Alicia was a lady to me, as Frank Sinatra might have said, or sung, if he'd had a jury out in a hurricane.

Allied Bank Plaza nka Wells Fargo Plaza, after Hurricane Alicia in August 1983

I tried to visit my office that Sunday, but downtown was still cordoned off, and the streets were covered for blocks with fine, sharp-edged shards of deep green glass — formerly the curtain wall of what was then Allied Bank Plaza (now the Wells Fargo Plaza), whose glass would've been fine except for the gravel roof on the Tenneco Building across the street: Alicia turned those bits of roofing gravel into 100 mph projectiles. It was surreal. All judicial deadlines in state and federal courts around Houston were extended across-the-board, no questions asked, for two weeks IIRC, and more than a few lawyers I knew had had the entire contents of their offices sucked out into the storm.

I've survived all the other storms 'tween then and now, and I've been consistently lucky. I've avoided being conspicuously stupid in any of those past storms and floods. I know the drill for sheltering in place. My tank's full, my provisions are in place, I have fresh batteries and my devices are charged, etc. Houston is home, and hurricanes are part of living here. Beats earthquakes and tornadoes IMHO, but YMMV.

Posted by Beldar at 11:09 PM in Current Affairs, Texas, Trial Lawyer War Stories | Permalink


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