Pro bono family law attorneys may seek fees in North Carolina
Thursday, June 17, 2010
- Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina
The NC General Assembly has adopted revisions to NCGS §50-16.4. so that pro bono and legal services lawyers may seek attorney fees in alimony and post separation support cases.
Previously the statute contained language that would allow the award of fees "for the benefit of the dependent spouse." The NC Supreme Court in the case of Patronelli v. Patronelli interpreted that language to prevent a pro bono attorney from being awarded fees in these types of domestic cases. The bill now awaits Governor Purdue's signature.
By way of background, in Patronelli, Raleigh volunteer attorney Michael S. Harrell (of Manning Fulton & Skinner, PA), at the request of Legal Aid of NC (LANC), successfully represented a dependent spouse in the underlying action and then sought fees that were denied to him solely because he was a pro bono attorney. The Court interpreted the "for benefit" language to find that since the client did not have to pay attorney fees to her pro bono lawyer, she would not benefit from the fee award. LANC and other legal services organizations filed an amicus brief with the NC Supreme Court in this case. Harrell generously donated 5 minutes of his oral arguments to the amici.
The NC Equal Access to Justice Commission's Legislative Committee, and NC Advocates for Justice's Executive Director Dick Taylor put this legislation in motion. Taylor worked very hard for passage of the bill in the NC House and NC Senate. The bill was enthusiastically supported in the House by Melanie Wade Goodwin, a former intern in the LANC-Raleigh Office and now the State Representative for Montgomery and Richmond Counties.