|Howard County Bar Association|
COURT ORDERED ATTORNEY FEE AWARDS?
The topic title ends with a question mark because although a statute may
allow you to request fees, you may not get them.
The use of the word “award” - meaning an unexpected honor or
recognition of an achievement, is probably appropriate too.
Scores of Maryland statutes include a
provision for an award of attorney fees, but my personal experience has
been that the judges either refuse to award fees or reduce them significantly.
Contrarily, before the federal bench,
I have received 100% of a statutory permitted attorney fee. At
this meeting I will distinguish my experience with both forums.
Family Law article 12-103 provides that the court can award costs and
counsel fees in certain domestic matters. The
court shall consider the “financial status of each party, the needs of each
party, and whether there was substantial justification for bringing, maintaining
or defending the proceeding.”
At a fee hearing on my petition for appellate attorney fees, the judge
awarded me no fees or costs, despite a COSA mandate citing “substantial
justification,” findings by the
judge that my fees were reasonable and the existence of a significant
discrepancy in incomes.
The ex-spouse’s claim that my client was not working up to her
potential income and that she may have purposefully dissipated some assets had
caught the ear of the judge and was cited in his oral opinion for refusing
payment of any of my $12K in
“reasonable” fees or $3K in costs. As I pondered my situation, I grieved briefly for the empty
spot in my wallet that would remain empty, but also for the many low income
persons who would never receive their day in court because of the reluctance of
an attorney to become involved in such matters without a substantial retainer.
Contrary to my State court experience,
I received a significant
attorney fee award from a US District Judge in an ERISA case, Hardester
v. Lincoln National Insurance.
If your litigation takes you into federal court, and if you are allowed
to petition for fees and costs, do not overlook Rule 109 of the
Local Rules of the United States District Court for the District of
Maryland. It mandates
specific time and format requirements for costs and fee requests.
The local federal rule requires that you file your Bill of Costs within
twenty days of the mandate. If you
miss the twenty day filing period, it is deemed a waiver of costs which can be
significant in federal cases. Attorney
fees must be filed within fourteen days of the entry of judgment or mandate and
must include a detailed description of work performed broken down by hours or
fractions expended on each task, the attorney’s customary fee for such like
work, the customary fee for like work prevailing in the attorney’s community,
a listing of any expenditures for which reimbursement is sought, and any
additional factors that the attorney wishes to bring to the Court’s attention.
The lesson of the day can easily be summarized by any rookie attorney --
get your retainer up front, then go to work.
I am also reminded of the sign that some attorneys hang in their office,
“How much justice can you afford?”
I always thought such signs were in poor taste, but the collection of a
fee is essential to the financial existence of a private practitioner.
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