Dickstein Shapiro

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Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
48
Dickstein Shapiro (87)
63.2
68.2
58.1

 

When Meeting Ground, a Presbyterian church focused on serving the homeless, acquired a new property in Elkton, Maryland, in 2007, it planned to use the building for a day center for the homeless as well as for worship. But its zoning application was denied by the town of Elkton on the grounds that a facility for the homeless would contribute to traffic problems in the community. The Am Law Pro Bono 100Elkton's zoning allowed for churches at the proposed location, but town authorities interpreted the proposed use of the property as philanthropic, not religious.

Meeting Ground's case came to Dickstein Shapiro through the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, a longtime pro bono client. The firm filed suit in federal district court in Baltimore in July 2008, contending that the town's actions deprived the church and its members of their rights to freely exercise their religious faith under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

"We believe that the town's basis for denying Meeting Ground's permit did not constitute a compelling governmental interest, and, even if it did, the town did not use the least restrictive means to protect that interest," says Dickstein associate Steven Wellner, one of the attorneys who worked on the case. Kevin Karpinski of Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp, P.A., an attorney representing the town, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

In October 2008 the firm obtained a preliminary injunction in favor of the church. The next month, the town considered a new application filed by Meeting Ground and classified the organization as a church. It was a defining moment for the organization, Wellner says, and has ultimately led to improved relations with the town.

—Priti Patnaik | July 1, 2009

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