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A billboard advertising injury lawyer Gordon McKernan is visible from northbound LA1, Friday, May 24, 2019, in West Baton Rouge, La.

High-profile Baton Rouge personal injury lawyer Gordon McKernan says an email he sent to his staff members warning them not to meet with anyone from Orleans or Jefferson parishes, or even let them into the office, may appear "too harsh" and uncaring, but that he didn't intend to disparage people amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But McKernan — well known for his billboards touting "Get Gordon! Get it done!" and "Get the G Guarantee" — said Thursday the directive was sent to protect the health, safety and welfare of his employees and not to cast people from the New Orleans area in a negative light.

"Under stress I sent that out. It doesn't make me look very compassionate," he acknowledged in a telephone interview. "It was probably too harsh. That's my bad."

The email, sent Tuesday, says: "Folks, do not meet with anyone from new orleans or jefferson. Don't let them in the office. If you meet with someone from orleans or Jefferson, whether in the office or outside of the office, at a minimum, you will be sent home for two weeks.

"Please follow my advice. I don't want to have to send you home, or even worse, terminate you," the email concluded.

McKernan explained Thursday that, in the days leading up to that email, he learned that about a dozen of his employees had been in New Orleans and subsequently under quarantine.

After that, a policy was put in place to screen visitors to the Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys office on Hilton Avenue off Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge to inquire whether they were exhibiting any coronavirus symptoms or had been to Orleans or Jefferson parishes.

That policy was in place Tuesday morning when a lawyer from New Orleans came to the office for a deposition, and one of McKernan's employees — a fellow lawyer who was trying to be hospitable — escorted the visiting lawyer to a conference room after McKernan's front desk coordinator had stopped the visitor.

McKernan, who noted that the deposition was supposed to be taken by phone, said it was that incident that prompted his email Tuesday. McKernan said his employee who let the New Orleans lawyer into the office remains in quarantine but has not shown any coronavirus symptoms. He is working from home.

McKernan also released a written statement Thursday that read, "As a husband, father and employer, my first priority during these stressful times is the health and safety of my family; my employees; my clients, and their respective families. Like many Louisiana businesses, we are having to react rapidly to a fluid situation that changes daily."

"In re-reading the internal communication I sent out to all our employees, I realize that it was a bit stern, but the truth is I felt that it was needed at that time to re-enforce to my employees to take this health crisis and our recently established internal policies seriously," he wrote.

"Our policies were consistent with the recommendations and requirements of President Trump and Governor Edwards. My focus continues to be protecting the health and safety of my family, our employees, our clients and their families," the statement ended.

As of Thursday morning, 231 of Louisiana's 347 coronavirus cases were in Orleans Parish, and 62 were in neighboring Jefferson Parish. Six of the state's eight coronavirus deaths registered by Thursday morning had occurred in Orleans, and Jefferson had recorded one death.

McKernan, whose popular TV commercials and billboards show him atop an 18-wheeler with his arms folded, said in his interview that he meant no offense to the people of Orleans and Jefferson parishes in his internal email.

"Love Orleans. Love Jefferson. Travel down there a lot," he said. "Prayers are with them."

East Baton Rouge Parish now has five confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the state Department of Health figures released Thursday morning.

"My heart aches for this community and this nation," McKernan said. 


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.