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Court Upholds Attorney Fee Award to Unpaid Worker

On February 27, 2008, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a decision that will make it more likely that low-income people will be able to find lawyers to represent them. The Court decision allowed an award of attorney’s fees incurred in appellate proceedings necessary to correct a trial court’s error in its determination of the amount of attorney’s fees incurred at trial. Chief Judge Bell, writing for a unanimous Court of Appeals, wrote that:

"It is as important to compensate counsel for ensuring that the trial court gets it right, even if to do so requires counsel to appeal, as it is to ensure that counsel is compensated for services rendered at trial. Indeed, it is a disincentive to the retention of competent counsel in these kinds of cases to deny recovery for successful appellate advocacy, including advocacy that demonstrates trial court error." Friolo v. Frankel, Md. Ct. of Appeals, No. 107 (Sept. Term 2006), slip. op. at 13.

The Court affirmed the importance of statutes that allow the winner to collect attorney fees from the loser as a means for allowing plaintiffs wronged by a defendant -- in this case, an employee shorted on overtime and bonuses by an employer -- to prosecute their claim through competent counsel, though the amount to be recovered may be relatively small. The brief was written by Suzanne Sangree, Appellate Director of PJC; Janet Hostetler, PJC’s Murnaghan Appellate Fellow; and Kieron Quinn and Cory Zajdel from Quinn Gordon & Wolf, Cht.

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