Big Pine Rises Up: Pro bono lawyer helps Keys residents get back on their feet after Irma.

Author:Kinnally, Nancy
Position:Al Kelley

Two days after Category 4 Hurricane Irma plowed the 10-square-mile sliver of land where he lived and operated his business, Conch Wastewater, Jeff Sharp drove through the night from Alabama on his way home to Big Pine Key. (1)

Unbeknownst to him, his house boat lay upside down in a mangrove.

"I lost everything," Sharp said, recounting the casualties: one company truck, two pickups, a motorcycle, a Wave-Runner, an office now filled with three feet of seawater, and a heavily damaged fifth-wheel trailer.

"I'm sleeping on a couch at my assistant's house," Sharp said, referring to the soggy remains of his fifth-wheel, where his assistant Christy Crooks had lived alone at a Big Pine Key RV park prior to the storm. "She basically all of a sudden had a roommate. We were airing it out with fans. I was spending $35 a day on gasoline for the generator. We were living out of ice chests."

And then, less than two weeks after the storm and before some residents had even been able to return, came the park owner's letter taped to the door of every trailer in the park: "Within the next week we will be removing damaged trailers and disassembling any utility hook ups. If you own the trailer and it is capable of being moved, please remove it as soon as you can."

The park was closing. "We recommend you contact FEMA," the letter said.

Meanwhile, about 30 miles to the southwest, Al Kelley, a Key West lawyer specializing in business, entertainment, and intellectual property, had finished helping with his family's and neighbors' cleanup efforts and had begun opening his doors to pro bono clients between 8 and 10 a.m. each day, before his office began to swelter. Using the hot spot on his cell phone to do research, he boned up on FEMA claims, Small Business Administration loans, federal disaster food assistance, and the like. It would be two weeks before he got his power back, and there wasn't much he could do for his regular clients, so he figured he would spend his time volunteering.

Soon, Kelley found out about a pro bono clinic involving Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., and Cuban American Bar Association (CABA) Pro Bono Legal Services that was being offered in one of the hardest hit areas: Big Pine


A Ft. Myers native and nearly 30-year resident of Key West, Kelley had lived through Category 4 Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Category 3 Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which killed 25 people in Florida. (2) Both storms made a direct hit on the Keys. But the...

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