By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Devin Accetta, a court officer
at Manhattan Supreme Court, wasn't at her usual post in the
courthouse on Thursday. She was at her house, which was
destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, waiting for help.
Accetta, who lives in the Midland Beach section of Staten
Island, narrowly escaped the surging seawater brought on by
Sandy with her twin 2-year-olds, fleeing with virtually nothing
but the clothes they were wearing. On Thursday she hoped a
representative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency would
stop by the property and assess the damage.
"The only thing we left up are the walls," and those will
likely come down this weekend, she said. "We need to replace
everything that we owned."
Now help may be on the way -- from her fellow court
On Thursday, the court system announced the establishment of
a Court Families Assistance Fund to help employees and judges
who were affected by Sandy, which barreled through the region
last week and devastated entire neighborhoods.
More than 100 judges and non-judicial court employees
suffered some sort of damage from the storm, according to Ronald
Younkins, the chief of operations for the Office of Court
Like many New Yorkers, court employees who lived in the
hardest-hit areas have struggled to return their lives to normal
in the wake of the storm.
Bob Abarno, a senior court officer in Mineola Supreme Court,
watched helplessly from the second floor of his home as it was
flooded by three feet of water. Lieutenant Jack Allen, an
officer in New York City Criminal Court, saw his single-floor
ranch utterly ruined. And Nassau Supreme Court Justice Jerome
Murphy has spent the last week emptying his house in Island Park
of his possessions, the same as all his neighbors.
"I can't put it into words," said Allen of his life since
the storm. "There are days where you feel like you're going to
get through this, and days when it's overwhelming."
"WE'RE A FAMILY"
Power outages after the storm forced courts throughout the
region to close, including in Manhattan, where courts were
essentially shuttered for a week.
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court system, said
court employees had done an "outstanding job of getting to work
whenever and wherever they could," despite Sandy's impact.
The assistance fund will be administered by the Center for
Court Innovation in conjunction with the Fund for the City of
The court system launched a similar effort following the
attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Younkins
said that campaign raised $400,000, all of which was dispersed
to families affected by the attacks.
Another fund was organized in the wake of Hurricane Katrina
to benefit New Orleans court employees and their families.
Younkins said a letter announcing the fund had been sent to
judges and employees statewide, as well as the state bar
associations, many of which have already vowed to provide free
legal aid to victims of the storm. The National Center for State
Courts will also make court systems in other states aware of the
fund. Donations are tax-deductible.
The court system's effort joins a patchwork network of
assistance for affected residents that includes city, state and
federal agencies, nonprofit groups and neighbors and volunteers
from across the region.
"I think it's amazing," Allen said. "We work in a system
with a ton of different titles -- you're a court reporter, a
court officer, a clerk, a judge. But we're a family."
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