Ft. Myers attorney Danielle O’Halloran: ‘Everything flooded. My office took on 14 inches of water, front to back, as did all of the businesses downtown’
LegalFuel — The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar has a variety of resources available to help take your law practice remote
Grateful that her family survived Hurricane Ian, Ft. Myers criminal defense attorney Danielle O’Halloran spent most of Monday in her downtown office, ripping out carpet and looking for a sunny spot to dry her soggy files.
“Everything flooded,” she said. “My office took on 14 inches of water, front to back, as did all of the businesses downtown.”
Her advice for fellow Bar members?
“Do your CLEs on taking your office paperless, as much as you can,” she said. “Technology CLEs are key.”
Ringsmuth, Day & O’Halloran is in a brick, single-story building — built in 1901 — on First Street, not far from the Lee County Justice Center and the Caloosahatchee River.
O’Halloran’s office uses “Firm Central,” the practice management software by Thomson Reuters, but some of her files were still on paper, she said.
“One of the things as a lawyer I’m stressed about is my filing cabinet — from 14 inches up, I have client files that were destroyed,” she said. “My trust account file? Destroyed.”
The good news, O’Halloran says, is that her active cases are probably safe.
“Our 2022 cases, our open cases, we can reconstruct that stuff, the state can send us new discovery, I’m not concerned about that stuff,” she said.
In the meantime, O’Halloran has routed her firm’s calls directly to her cell phone while she sets up a remote office in borrowed space at her husband’s family law practice.
A message on her firm’s website advises clients that the courthouse will remain closed until at least Friday, and not to worry about missing a court date.
By Monday morning, the chief judge had not announced when the courts will reopen, O’Halloran said.
That is making life more difficult for some of her clients, she said.
“I have clients that were scheduled to get out of jail, now they’re stuck in custody, we can’t get them into court,” she said.
The Lee County jail was not evacuated, O’Halloran said. She is getting conflicting reports about conditions on the inside.
“I have some reports from some of my clients that the jail did take on water on the first floor,” she said. “Their side of the story is they don’t have clean water there, and the conditions are really bad.”
O’Halloran said the sheriff has assured her that the jail and her clients are safe.
O’Halloran and her husband thought they would be safe riding out the storm with their 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, and 7-year-old son, Finnegan, in the family home.
But late in the afternoon, when they saw the river rising, they tossed the kids into the car and raced to her husband’s fourth-floor office.
“Around 4:30 Wednesday, the river just exploded,” she said. “It flooded the entirety of downtown Ft. Myers, right up to the courthouse.”
When the couple returned after the storm, they found that the floodwaters had stopped just five feet from their home. The home has no water or electricity. Schools are closed and the children are staying with grandparents in Bartow, O’Halloran said.
The mayor told O’Halloran on Sunday that electricity might be restored in a couple of weeks, “but the real issue is water,” she said.
“We had a ton of damage to our water infrastructure here,” she said. “He said it could be a long time before we had drinkable water.”
The five other attorneys in her firm — one works remotely from out of state — avoided injury, O’Halloran said, but one lost the roof to his Cape Coral home. A staff member’s Cape Coral home was completely flooded and suffered partial roof damage, she said.
Her husband’s Ft. Myers law office survived, O’Halloran said, but a satellite office on Sanibel likely did not.
“He hasn’t been able to get out there with his partner to estimate the damage,” she said. “They’re sure it’s gone. My God, that office had wills in it, it’s just heart breaking.”
For lawyers forced by the storm to take their practices remote, LegalFuel — The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar has a variety of resources available, including:
- Location of Practice Rule – Bona Fide Offices (Rule 4-7.12(a)(2))
- How to Conduct a Virtual Client Conference (article with step-by-step instructions and screenshots)