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By: New Haven County Bar Association Pro Bono Committee
Introduction: Fee Waivers
Introduction: Fee Shifting
During pro bono representation, the opportunity to seek statutory attorney’s fees may regularly arise under the following circumstances:
CGS § 46b-62 – Divorce Cases
Under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-62, a court may order either spouse to pay the reasonable attorney’s fees of the other in accordance with their respective financial abilities and the criteria set for awarding alimony by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-82.
This includes parties represented by an attorney from a non-profit legal services organization. See Benavides v. Benavides. 526 A.2d 536 (Conn. App. Ct. 1987).
See also Stancuna v. Stancuna, 2007 Conn. Super Lexis 2252 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2007) (“The lesson of Benavides ... is that the court must decide a party's request for counsel fees . . . without regard to the fact that the plaintiff is represented by a nonprofit corporation that did not charge her a fee.").; Buehler v. Buehler, 978 A.2d 1141 (Conn. App. Ct. 2009) (citing Benavides for assertion that trial court did not abuse its discretion in a marriage dissolution action by awarding fees in excess of $85,000 despite an agreement that their services were provided pro bono).
In Benavides, the Appellate Court considered the following:
CGS § 42-150bb – Landlord Tenant Cases
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 42-150bb provides in pertinent part:
"Whenever any... lease... to which a consumer is a party provides for the attorneys fee of the commercial party to be paid by the consumer, an attorney’s fee shall be awarded, as a matter of law to the consumer who successfully prosecutes or defends an action... based upon the... lease."
Where the landlord is entitled to attorney’s fees for any action arising out of a lease, so is the tenant.
Courts have also extended the Benavides analysis to award attorney’s fees pursuant to § 42-150bb to defendants in summary eviction actions.
Volunteers who successfully obtain statutory attorney’s fee are encouraged to donate a suitable portion of the fees to organizations that benefit indigent persons.
See Rule 6.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (persuading attorneys who retain statutory attorneys' fees in cases originally accepted as pro bono "to contribute an appropriate portion of the fees to organizations or projects that benefit persons of limited means.")