The Maryland Appellate Court recently ruled in favor of an MVLS client who had been ordered to pay for the opposing party’s attorney fees, based at least in part on the MVLS client receiving a “free” attorney.
The case, Avery v. Crout, began back in May 2020 when MVLS received an intake phone call from an individual seeking to modify his custody arrangement. He hadn’t seen his children for over six months and he wanted to establish a more consistent relationship with them. Thanks to a dedicated volunteer attorney, Andrew Levy, the client was assisted with their custody modification. His firm provided more than 40 hours of pro bono to the MVLS client.
When the case went to trial in Anne Arundel County in 2022, the Circuit Court judge granted attorney fees to the opposing party, citing in part as his reason that our client, who is unemployed, received pro bono services.
Recognizing the terrible precedent that this kind of ruling could create for pro bono clients, the volunteer attorney immediately decided to appeal the ruling. MVLS and other legal services organizations joined in an amicus brief, drafted by MVLS Board Member Anthony May, raising the potentially chilling effect on pro bono if this ruling was left in place.
The arguments were heard in early 2023, and we were thrilled to receive the Appellate Court’s ruling late last week, recognizing that receiving pro bono help is not a factor when determining attorney’s fees in a case.
Thank you to Andy, Anthony and all of our volunteers and supporters who are so committed to access to justice.