The drive home from Indianapolis that Friday seemed uneventful and was one I had taken many times. I passed the Henryville Exit on I-65 around 2:15 P.M. on March 2, 2012. The skies were gray but not ominous. I was listening to a commercial/free radio station and had no clue of the looming dangerous weather conditions. In just a few hours violent tornados would cause enormous damage to that little town and the surrounding areas. This tragedy would call to duty local attorneys in ways that they never contemplated, but their service would raise the bar for our entire profession.
One hour later as I was home with my sons, all of the major media outlets were issuing warnings to find shelter immediately. The experts predicted that the tornados were headed for Borden and New Pekin then moving toward Henryville and Marysville. My home is about 10 miles south of that pathway.
By 5:00 P.M. the highly dangerous Level E-4 tornados and accompanying storms had wreaked incredible damage on Clark County. Trees were uprooted making many roads impassable, a school bus was lodged in an office building across from the school, a gas station’s building, pumps and signage were all completely destroyed from the violent strength of the tornados. Henryville High School was badly damaged. That evening the National Guard, Clark County Highway Department, and police agencies from Indiana and Kentucky arrived in Henryville trying to restore a minimal level of basic services to homes and to begin clearing the roadways.
Two days later, I stopped at the home of Betty Carver, a local attorney whose well-maintained and preserved bungalow style home residence was considered a landmark in Henryville. The roof of her home was completely ripped off. Betty is a survivor and, although hurting on the inside, her outward attitude was upbeat and courageous.
The damage to other homes and buildings in Henryville and Maryville was overwhelming and destructive. Bark was stripped from trees, businesses leveled, homes were uplifted and moved, with once lived-in spaces found as much as a quarter of a mile from their concrete foundations. National Guard personnel eventually walked through Henryville and marked homes with a large orange X (must be demolished) or an orange O (livable). It was not hard to grasp and feel the gravity of the situation.
The Board of Planners for the Clark Legal Self-Help Center (“CLSHC”) met to talk about assisting people in the tornado-ravaged area. These members include area lawyers Bob Bottorff, Mark Robinson and Marianne Conrad of Indiana Legal Services, Inc.; Clark County Bar Association President, Tom Thomas; Jill Oca, CPA and Planning; County Public Defender, Jeffrey Stonebraker; Spencer Harmon; and me. In the following days, the CLSHC became the focal point and point of contact for a fine demonstration of professional legal volunteer work.
New Albany attorneys, Rodney Scott and John Woodard planned a free weekend legal clinic in Henryville and were quickly able to mobilize some 20 local attorneys to donate their time. The lawyers held that first clinic in an undamaged funeral home in Henryville. They met with bewildered and shocked people to discuss topics that included filing insurance loss forms, hauling debris, protecting property from looting, and proving causality loss claims.
After that first clinic, attorneys John Woodard and Mark Robinson worked with the Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA) to form an “emergency hotline” for citizens who had follow-up questions or who were not able to meet with an attorney at the Henryville clinic. The ISBA, as well as Chuck Dunlap of the Indiana Bar Foundation , made significant contributions by their presence and valuable advice.
In the second week after the tornado, local attorneys Bottorff, Harmon, Darlene Briscoe worked with me to mobilize teams of lawyers to volunteer time in the evening to meet with citizens in the Borden and Marysville area. CLSHC, with the assistance of Indiana Legal Services, Inc., prepared and distributed several new disaster related booklets designed specifically for tornado victims, including FEMA information and guidelines, contact information for the Attorney General’s Office and the local Commissioner’s Office, information about donation centers, Red Cross information, and contacts for other relevant state and federal agencies who might provide assistance.
Non-lawyers worked with CLSHC in this tornado relief effort providing accounting and financial assistance, organizing and distributing disaster booklets and information, fielding telephone inquiries, and making referrals to the volunteer lawyers and professionals involved in the assistance efforts. In all thirty-five lawyers answered the call to meet needs of fellow citizens in distress in Clark County. This remarkable dedication and concern for others was a heartwarming example of public service.
On May 10, 2012, the Clark County Commissioners publicly recognized and awarded Certificates of Appreciation to the volunteers who rose to the occasion by donating booklets, knowledge and time at the clinics and in other ways to aid the tornado recovery efforts, including thirty five members of the bar, as follows:
Magistrate Judge Kenneth Abbott, Robert G. Bottorff, II, Darlene Briscoe, W. Brian Burnette, Robert M. Colone, Marianne Conrad, Rachele L. Cummins, Eric T. Eberwine, Mary Fondrisi,Matthew W. Forsythe, Graham T. Green, J. Spencer Harmon, Sandra L. Heeke, C. Allan Hoffer, Kristi James, Margie Jenkins, Jeffrey Stonebraker, Thomas R. Thomas, Sr, Margaret F. Timmel, Scott L. Tyler, J. Scott Waters, IV, Amy Wheatley, Derrick Wilson, John W. Woodard, Jr., Nicholas Karaffa, Jason A. Lopp, Mary McCuskey, Judge Daniel E. Moore, Jill Oca, CPA, Brenda Ooley, Gregory M. Reger, Lisa Garcia Reger, J. Mark Robinson, Sherry Routh, Richard Rush, Rodney Scott, Marc S. Sedwick, John L. Smith, William E. Smith, III, and Nick Stein.
Henryville, Marysville and Borden are slowly rebuilding and it will be a long journey toward total recovery. Businesses and individuals (even the band Lady Antebellum recently provided a free prom night for Henryville high school students) demonstrated generosity on a grand scale.
Even though skeptics will undoubtedly continue to make negative comments about lawyers, I offer a strong counter-point on the strength of this group of thirty-five members of the profession who raised the bar by unselfishly answering the call to duty in a time of crisis.