Appeal Forms for Circuit Court Unemployment Appeals (Modified: May 2017)

Maryland’s Court of Appeals urges attorneys to provide “pro bono publico” (for the benefit of the public) assistance to persons of limited means, to assist in the fight to protect the rights of historically disadvantaged groups and to assist in the overall improvement of the legal system as a whole – at no charge or at a very substantially reduced charge. We are urged to spend 50 hours per year, i.e about 1 hour per week, assisting in these important activities. Most of us don’t meet that goal, but all of us should try to provide that pro bono help or at least to provide financial support to the lawyers and agencies that do provide these services as their main purpose (e.g. Legal Aid, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, so many pro bono agencies working on a shoestring, etc.)

As noted elsewhere, my firm dedicates a substantial portion of its time to assisting unemployed workers, almost all of whom are by definition persons of “limited means” – if you just lost your job, your means probably just got limited severely. However, our firm ordinarily does charge for our services in unemployment representation, subject to the regulations that protect workers from unfair or excessive legal fees.

Sometimes an attorney cannot afford to represent a worker, particularly a worker who comes to our office late in the appeals process, after the Board of Appeals has issued a final ruling and Circuit Court is the only remaining appeal route. What we can do, however, is to make it easier for such workers slightly to represent themselves and preserve their appeal rights, either while they arrange for funds to retain an attorney or to represent themselves if they so choose.

Many workers receive the proper advice that appeals (technically, petitions for judicial review) of Maryland agency decisions including decisions of the Division of Unemployment Insurance have to be filed in Circuit Court timely pursuant to Rule 7-202. In the age of the internet, many workers conduct their own research online to try to find out how to represent themselves in these cases, or at least to preserve their appeal rights timely and properly. The most popular website for free legal research in Maryland is probably www.michie.com, but Michie’s layout for Rule 7-202 is not particularly helpful. In that Rule, the Maryland Court of Appeals provided a suggested layout for petitions for judicial review, but due to limitations of the internet the Rule and form do not render very well on the internet. The paper volume containing Rule 7-202 is reasonably clear, but the electronic format online at Michie does not mesh well with internet formatting.

Accordingly I am happy to provide a sample form for no charge for those who would like to file their own unemployment petitions for judicial review in Maryland courts. The form’s layout complies with the substance of Rule 7-202 but contains additional formatting and content that the Rule or Circuit Court clerks require find helpful, specifically for unemployment appeals. I did not provide a fill-in-the-blank form for ethical and professional responsibility reasons, but I hope that the form may be useful to workers and private practitioners new to this practice area.  Additionally, the form contains a required ethical disclosure that an attorney outside the case assisted in the preparation of the form.

There is no fee or other license requirement for the use or copying of the form; anyone may do so for any reason. I would request that anyone using the form for any purpose drop me a line at godfrey @ jezicfirm.com (changed: May 2017), but this is not a requirement. I would also request that any practicing lawyer using the form either take one case pro bono or make a donation in the amount of a quarter of his or her billable hour, or one hour’s pay rate, to a suitable pro bono organization, but this is NOT a requirement or condition.

Again, this is not a requirement for using the form, just a request that you say “Hi” and that you help the greater pro bono effort if you are a lawyer. Thank you in advance to everyone, including especially any attorneys helping in pro bono efforts.  This is NOT an offer of pro bono representation generally.  To get the form, please email me at the address given above.

The World Doesn’t Owe Lawyers A Living

Sometimes I do not recognize the world as the one I grew up in. This bizarre tale of a new attorney who went, more or less, berserk against a potential employer who didn’t want to hire him as a paralegal leads me to ask whether the “the world owes me a living” attitude of the young man comes from generational experiences, geographical origins or is simply and purely a result of this one man’s peculiar and twisted outlook on life.

Lawyering isn’t easy and getting the first job isn’t easy for a young lawyer, even one with top grades from top-flight schools. Economic changes have moved large parts of “BigLaw” to India for processing. According to one estimate, 30-35% of litigation costs in large litigation by one estimate come from document review in the age of Microsoft Office, and there are lots and lots of English-speaking, high work-ethic attorneys in India who will work for 1/4 of a U.S. lawyer’s salary (with proportionate low personal overhead on their end.) While what my practice does – unemployment litigation, traffic disputes, misdemeanor criminal defense, debt collection work, etc.- cannot be outsourced to Bangalore or Hyderabad (or Manila, or Lagos, or Johannesburg, etc.), big law firms are vulnerable to outsourcing for much of their work.

One of the disturbing trends I have seen out of Generation Y’s cohort in law school is referring to legal work for live human beings, rather than for large corporations, as so-called “Third Tier Toilet” work, referring to law schools of lower (or no) prestige. I view the so-called “TTT” chatter as a way for frustrated law students – and possibly those who want to maintain BigLaw’s cultural prestige within legal education” – to kick dirt on the faces of clients looking up from the bottom of the economic well. It is a nasty sort of class-consciousness inversion – lawyers fearful of (or competing for talent with) blue collar law, poverty law, law for real persons not artificial corporate persons, passing on their own anxieties about their careers (or others’ careers) onto the backs of clients and areas of practice that don’t carry corporate prestige and insane salaries/workloads.

A new associate at major BigLaw firms may make $160,000 per year. In other words, she or he has two full-time $80,000.00 jobs, in one paycheck. Her or his salary requires that she bill at least $500,000 per year under 1:3 rule of salary:billings. At $225/hour, this requires billing 2200 hours per year; many law firms require much more. Who can pay $225/hour for a first year associate and three times that for a partner? Large corporations facing millions, even billions in opportunities and risks. Poverty law works differently – the high-stakes cases come often for the clients LEAST able to pay, not MOST able. Same with workers’ comp, unemployment cases, traffic cases for motorists who will get fired if they get their license suspended, criminal cases for young people who may want a job someday – high stakes cases very often accompany the inability to pay.

There is no way to bridge the gap mentally betwen the welder with 18 years’ seniority who just got fired over a petty squabble with a supervisor, and a 25 year-old law school grad who looks upon representing that welder as trivial, so trivial that any employer who won’t hire him deserves to be threatened and called a “career predator,” as did the new attorney in the case linked above. It’s part of a sick, inhuman mindset that looks about the legal profession as a bank vault to be raided, rather than as a craft to be done well for those who most need it. I see a connection between dismissing the profitability of middle-class law for the lawyer, dismissing the importance of the client’s case morally and dismissing the entire blue-collar and middle-class clientele en masse as “Third Tier Toilet” people.

Nobody owes a lawyer a living. Lawyers do not exist for their own sake, but to assist clients whom the law affects – sometimes for a profit, sometimes not. Lawyers entering the profession with the opposite mindset should go into vanity plastic surgery for Hollywood instead (this is not to disparage reconstructive or therapeutic plastic surgery.) There are no Third Tier Toilet clients; if you look at the legal rights of clients as being of a lower tier, or as the clients themselves as beneath you, please turn in your law license and go sell luxury cars to corrupt government officials in oil-exporting countries instead. There’s nothing wrong with preferring a high salary or corporate work; it’s the “the world owes me a BigLaw fat paycheck” mentality among some young lawyers that I find extremely offensive.

The Law Office of Bruce Godfrey proudly represents the unemployed, the accused, the forgotten, the marginalized and the damned. If BigLaw looks down on my clientele, or on me for representing real people, good. Looking down on people as people is a mistake worth punishing, and it’s always a good idea not to interrupt an opponent or competitor when they are making a serious mistake.

A solid management summary of Maryland unemployment Law

Chris Brown, Esquire, of the Columbia-based Business and Technology Law Group has an excellent summary of the law and procedure in Maryland unemployment appeals. While my perspective as a pro-labor, pro-worker and pro-union attorney differs substantially from that of a corporate attorney, and I would probably use a different lexicon to as a labor advocate than did BTLG in this article, the outline of the law and procedure is solid. Chris Brown and his firm have my full professional respect; any employer would do well to consider BTLG for its legal needs.

Media Release: Ruby Receptionists Joins Law Office as Key Client Service Provider

For Immediate Release, May 28, 2010

The Law Office of Bruce Godfrey is very pleased to announce a new professional alliance with Ruby Receptionists (www.callruby.com), a leader in top-flight client assistance and professional communications management for law firms and related professional organizations throughout the United States and Canada.

With the previously announced relocation from Towson to larger, more exclusive professional space in Owings Mills effective June 1, the Law Office sought top-quality receptionist support to assist in the management of recent dramatic growth in the demand for legal help from Maryland unemployed workers facing benefits disputes, motorists accused of jailable and non-jailable violations and litigants in all aspects of civil litigation. The Law Office sought both a highly professional, positive tone – more than a gruff “Law Office” greeting – from its receptionist support and rock-solid confidential message management from clients, prospective clients, judges, opposing attorneys and all callers.

Ruby Receptionists has earned a national reputation for delivering high-quality, confidence-building reception services and message management to law firms and similar professional organizations throughout the United States. Bruce Godfrey conducted several telephone inquiries with Ruby Receptionists before awarding the contract and was extremely impressed with the professionalism, enthusiasm, clarity and efficiency of the receptionists at Ruby.

Ruby Receptionists will commence professional services at the Law Office of Bruce Godfrey on June 1, 2010 at 8:30 AM.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Law Office of Bruce Godfrey to Relocate to Owings Mills

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Unemployment workers’ rights attorney Bruce Godfrey has announced the relocation of his law practice from Towson, Maryland to Owings Mills, Maryland effective May 31, 2010.

The Law Office of Bruce Godfrey has moved to expanded office space at the 11421 Professional Center at 11421 Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills, very convenient to all of Reisterstown, Owings Mills, Pikesville and Baltimore’s Northwest Corridor.  The office will be fully accessible to Law Office clients throughout metropolitan Baltimore and  more convenient for clients arriving from the Maryland suburbs of Washington.  The new space will allow:

greater flexibility in meeting the scheduling needs of working clients,
greatly improved parking for clients arriving by automobile,
superior access for disabled clients consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replete with compliant ramps, and
greater professional efficiency for clients by reducing exposure of the Law Office to Beltway commuting problems

Bruce Godfrey remains grateful to the fine attorneys and other professionals with whom the Law Office has shared excellent professional space in Towson during the practice’s first full year of operations in Towson, and wishes all of them all the best.  While the transition is official as of May 31, the Law Office has taken early occupancy at the 11421 Professional Center and is looking forward to deploying the new, convenient and more spacious facilities for the benefit of Law Office clients.

Unemployment – If My Job Stinks, Should I Quit and Get Unemployment

Sometimes clients and prospective clients ask me whether they should have quit their job rather than stay on until getting fired.  Usually this query comes after a client has already quit her job, so the question is merely philosophical, in that the quit has been done.

Generally, in Maryland, it is a lot riskier for unemployment benefits to quit a job than to stay and get fired.  Maryland does recognize categories of “good cause” and the somewhat-less-meritorious “valid circumstances” for certain types of quits.  However, in voluntary quit cases the employee/claimant has the burden of proof, whereas in misconduct cases management has the burden of proof to show a deviation from the communicated standards of the workplace or from what an employer has the right to expect reasonably in general.

I can only imagine two scenarios where it might possibly make sense from an unemployment insurance basis to choose to quit voluntarily rather than to risk a firing for misconduct.  The first is where the work has become simply untenable, i.e. in the case of a relocation 50+ miles away or perhaps an order from a supervisor to do something clearly unethical, fraudulent or illegal. The second  might be a rare case where the worker might have committed and then concealed relatively serious misconduct, and is seeking to quit when she has arguably perhaps valid circumstances for other grounds – BEFORE the misconduct is discovered.  I am not convinced I would recommend a quit even in this law-school-exam-style scenario.

In general, from a Maryland employment insurance perspective it is far safer and more prudent to stay on the job if at all possible.

Changes in Unemployment Insurance in Maryland

Maryland is contemplating a substantial increase in the premiums that employers pay for unemployment insurance, due to the sharp increase in claims during this difficult economy.

A discussion of the basics of unemployment insurance payments might help those who are not familiar with the program.  There are two unemployment insurance taxes that Maryland employers pay for their workers: taxes paid to the Unemployment Insurance Division of Maryland’s Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and a smaller federal tax payable to the U.S. Treasury on IRS form 940.  The taxable “wage base” in MD for any tax year is a maximum of $8,500.00.  Employers pay a tax on each worker quarterly based on the wages earned, up to the maximum annual base.  The federal system is similar except the wage base is $7,000.00 and the federal rate is .8%, yielding a maximum liability of $56.00 per year per worker.

Under Maryland law, the rates charged to all employers must rise if it appears that the Fund holding the insurance benefits will or may exhaust.  Due to a lower wage base (fewer workers) and an increase in validated claims, the Fund has fallen under a risk of depletion.  According to published reports, Governor O’Malley is proposing rather sharp increases in the minimum and maximum rates, per published reports, but he is trying to find ways to mitigate the impact of these increases.

One of the challenges is that the workers most vulnerable in a bad economy are the ones whose employers will bear the worst burdens of the unemployment crisis itself.  I do not know whether I accept the propounded idea that the increase in unemployment premiums will in fact cause or exacerbate unemployment itself.  But seasonal, low-wage workers may only work part-year, and for multiple employers (i.e. falling within a new wage base each time.)  Low-wage, part-time workers spend more of their working time within the wage base, unlike a white-collar professional earning e.g. $5K/month, and are likely to be working in jobs and for employers with high turnover and therefore high rates of validated claims.  Construction workers are a good example: when the weather gets cold, contractors let many workers go.  When construction is down generally, workers get laid off, and file benefits, increasing the costs of hiring workers and lowering the profitability of each new worker to be hired, etc.  Even if unemployment premiums don’t meaningfully induce or extend unemployment itself, they definitely don’t help.

While this Law Office is by policy and philosophy pro-union, pro-labor and pro-worker, I have often wondered why employers do not more often notify employees more formally of the costs of their own hire.  While I can understand why employers might want to keep those costs secret as a matter of competitive intelligence, employees ought to know that their employers are in fact paying a surcharge of $X per year for worker’s comp, for unemployment insurance, for FICA matching.  I am surprised that conservative political activists have not demanded the economy-wide disclosure of some or all of these costs to employees for rhetorical purposes, either worker-by-worker or en masse.  I suspect that many employees don’t conceive that the employers actually have to write checks for these legally required benefits.  The general acknowledgement of these costs by workers, or at least the formal notification of these costs to workers, might go a long way to soothing relations between labor and management in some cases.

Maryland Unemployment Insurance and “Voluntary Quit”

In general, someone who quits her employment voluntarily is ineligible for Maryland unemployment benefits until she earns back into eligibility through subsequent employment.  However, that rule does not tell the whole story.

Maryland recognizes two categories of mitigation (“valid circumstances”) or justification (“good cause”) for a voluntary quit.

“Valid circumstances” exist when:

(i) a substantial cause that is directly attributable to, arising from, or connected with conditions of employment or actions of the employing unit;
(ii) of such necessitous or compelling nature that the individual has no reasonable alternative other than leaving the employment; or
(iii) caused by the individual leaving employment to follow a spouse if:
1. the spouse:
A. serves in the United States military; or
B. is a civilian employee of the military or of a federal agency involved in military operations; and
2. the spouse’s employer requires a mandatory transfer to a new location.

“Good cause” is when the Appeals Division finds meritorious cause that is related only to the circumstances of the employment itself.  An example would be quitting when the job relocates a very long distance away, or when a worker suffers sexual harassment, exhausts in-house administrative remedies per company policy and the harassment persists or worsens.

In general, from an unemployment benefits standpoint for a worker it’s usually better not to quit a job at all but to attempt to remain employed, forcing the employer to terminate/lock out the employee.  In some circumstances conduct that may be tantamount to quitting may also be interpreted as tantamount to misconduct, such as walking off of the job.

If you have quit your job, willingly or under duress, and you want unemployment benefits, you should definitely consult an attorney.

Please find out more about how an attorney can help with Maryland unemployment benefits on this law firm’s Maryland unemployment benefits page.