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Hurricane Alters Haiti Itinerary

Hurricane Alters Haiti Itinerary

Banner proclaiming conference in Haiti includes NCBA logo.

A delegation of North Carolina Bar Association members planned to attend a conference this week in Haiti to discuss methods of attracting investment there. Organized and hosted by the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, the conference was to be in conjunction with annual celebrations and ceremonies to mark the opening of Haiti's courts on the first Monday of October. Hurricane Matthew intervened, and the conference has been postponed until May 16-18, 2017. But the opening of courts celebrations continued as scheduled on Monday.

Banking, insurance, and international investment composed the agenda of the three-day conference, with Haitian senior officials, lawyers, business leaders, and representatives of various organizations participating. Delegation members, with one exception, learned of the postponement before leaving for Haiti. NCBA President Kearns Davis, however, was already in the country for the opening of the courts. He remains there, safe and sound, waiting out the storm and worrying about the citizens of the impoverished island nation.

The plight of Haiti's citizens is a driving force behind the conference and the NCBA's involvement with Haitian lawyers. "This country is full of people who scratch out a living however they can, in conditions we can't even relate to," Davis said. "The needs are great and numerous, but economic opportunity is high on the list. If Haitian lawyers and leaders can strengthen and protect institutions that attract investment and jobs, they can change many lives."

The NCBA delegation was to include former North Carolina Commissioner of Banks Joe Smith of Poyner & Spruill in Raleigh, insurance law expert Steve DeGeorge of Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson in Charlotte, an international law team from Nexsen Pruet including David Robinson, Ernie Pearson, and David Garrett, and NCBA Board of Governors member Danny Merlin of Charlotte.

Stanley Gaston, left, and Kearns Davis are dressed for court.

Davis reported that the opening of courts celebrations were inspiring. First, at Haiti's supreme court – the Cour de Cassation – he joined Haitian bar leaders in processing into the courtroom in formal academic gowns. The court's chief justice, Président de la Cour Jule Cantave, presided over a ceremony attended by all of the court's justices, the chief judge and judges of the intermediate appellate court, foreign dignitaries, and senior government officials including Minister of Justice Junior Edouard Camille, the counterpart of the United States Attorney General.

Davis was introduced to the court and the NCBA was recognized by Stanley Gaston, President of both the Port-au-Prince Bar Association and the Federation of Bars of Haiti. A large sign behind the judges read "Bonne Annee Judiciaire" – Happy New Judicial Year. In keeping with the theme, champagne was served in a private reception following the ceremony.

Davis then joined Gaston and Port-au-Prince Bar Association board member Miguel Sanon for another event to mark the annual opening of Haiti's highest administrative court – the Cour Superieure des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif. The ceremony included the elevation of the court's new chief judge, or président. The supreme court's chief justice attended, among other jurists and attorneys, and again the ceremony was followed by a private champagne reception, complete with a cake decorated with the image of lady justice.

"Today was fantastic," Davis said after the ceremonies. "The NCBA was acknowledged repeatedly, and I enjoyed both formal and informal interaction with the chief justice, the minister of justice, the chief court of appeals judge, and the chief national administrative judge.

“Most striking, though, were the matters important to Haiti's legal community. The chief justice and other speakers stressed, among other issues, judicial independence, access to justice, pretrial detention, and indigent representation. Our systems are different, and our economies are different, but we share the same fundamental concerns."

Davis was particularly impressed with a banner strung across an intersection in the capital city of Port-au-Prince heralding the national conference, replete with an NCBA logo. A committee chaired by Merlin is now in place to further develop the NCBA's relationship with the lawyers, judges, and people of Haiti.