Law firm donates legal fees to ACLU of Michigan

Honigman recently announced the firm is donating to the ACLU of Michigan $262,000 in legal fees—its portion of a $315,000 attorneys’ fee settlement with the Michigan Department of Corrections. The donation follows a victory in July 2023 in Woodman v Department of Corrections, in which the Michigan Supreme Court held that courts cannot reduce attorneys’ fee awards solely because lawyers work on a pro bono basis. The attorneys’ fee settlement payment is believed to be among the largest ever in a Freedom of Information Act case.
The case stemmed from Freedom of Information Act requests by freelance journalists Spencer Woodman and George Joseph, who sought audio and video recordings from the Michigan Department of Corrections related to the 2016 death of a prison inmate. When the Department of Corrections denied their requests, Woodman and Joseph sought legal assistance from the ACLU of Michigan, which in turn recruited Honigman as pro bono cooperating counsel.

The Court of Claims ruled that Woodman and Joseph were entitled to all of their requested audio and video recordings and that, as prevailing parties, were also entitled to attorneys’ fees under the Freedom of Information Act. The Court of Claims awarded the ACLU of Michigan all of its fees, but reduced Honigman’s fees by 90% solely because Honigman worked pro bono.

The Supreme Court’s ruling ensures that pro bono counsel are treated the same as their paid counterparts and—consistent with the Freedom of Information Act’s attorneys’ fee provision—encourages lawyers to represent those otherwise unable to afford access to justice.
The Honigman team included Robert M. Riley, Rian C. Dawson, and Scott B. Kitei.

“The Woodman decision is a tremendously important victory for pro bono legal services throughout Michigan,” said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan legal director. “We are grateful to Honigman for their counsel and partnership.”

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