SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - (January 24, 2018) - Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt Monday visited his counterpart in Puerto Rico to offer assistance from state attorneys general after Hurricane Maria left her office damaged and hobbled its operations.
Schmidt met with Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez, the equivalent of attorney general for Puerto Rico, at her temporary office in San Juan. The headquarters office building for the Department of Justice was severely damaged by the hurricane and must be demolished.
"Restoring the Department of Justice in Puerto Rico is a critical priority," Schmidt said. "From combating a rising crime rate, to rooting out and prosecuting corruption in disaster-relief efforts and other publicly funded programs, the Department's efforts to restore the rule of law are urgently needed."
Four months after the disaster, the Department still is struggling with the damage done to it by the storm. In addition to the destruction of its headquarters building, many legal files, both paper and digital, were lost. Computer systems were destroyed. With 40 percent of the island still without power, the Department's central office in San Juan still has limited communication with its regional prosecutors across the island.
In addition, nearly one in every 10 Puerto Ricans has left the island since the storm, including some skilled Department of Justice employees. Some remaining employees lost their homes, and many others are still without electricity or running water for themselves and their families.
Schmidt offered Vazquez, who had been in office only eight months when the hurricane hit in September 2017, help from the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). The two discussed possible types of help, including technical assistance, providing temporary personnel, assistance replacing lost technology, designing new records systems and access to training and support.
Schmidt said the situation in Puerto Rico appears to be the most crippling damage any state or territory attorney general's office has suffered in modern American history.
While in Puerto Rico, Schmidt also met with Jose Torres Zamora vice president of the House of Representatives. Schmidt made the trip in his capacity as president of NAAG. No Kansas funds were used.