March 26, 2021 Feature

A Tribute to Otto J. Hetzel

By Ernest B. Abbott

I first heard the name Otto Hetzel after arriving at a job at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A junkyard owner’s claim of damage, arising from alleged damage caused by FEMA-funded reconstruction, had been rejected in district and appellate court. However, the claimant’s attorney, Otto Hetzel, had arranged a meeting at FEMA attended by a congressman, where FEMA had refused to provide funds to Otto’s client. A few months later, FEMA discovered Congress had directed FEMA, through an earmark in an appropriations bill, to pay millions of dollars to Otto’s client, and my deputy, who was frustrated at originally having had to assure that the junkyard owner would not receive millions of dollars in damages, was convinced Otto was at the bottom of it. This story reveals Otto’s dogged persistence for his clients and willingness to step outside the box to solve a problem.

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