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Tydings & Rosenberg seeks fees after Zorzit divorce

ANNAPOLIS — After an 18-month divorce battle, Baltimore County multimillionaire John Zorzit met privately with his then-wife, Julie, last August and reached a financial settlement to end their 16-year marriage.

The agreement between the couple, which gained court approval, provided for no payment of attorney’s fees — to the dismay of Julie Zorzit’s counsel, Tydings & Rosenberg LLP of Baltimore.

The law firm was snubbed again in August when Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Sherrie R. Bailey rejected its motion to intervene in the divorce case in an effort to recover the more than $525,000 it believes it is owed in fees.

On Thursday, attorney Glenn E. Bushel, a Tydings partner, urged Maryland’s top court to let the firm make its case for fees in circuit court. He said Maryland family law provides for a fee award even when the divorcing couple reaches an agreement on their own.

Attorney’s fee awards are “inextricably intertwined” with divorce litigation, Bushel told the Court of Appeals.

Tydings is seeking to recover the fees from John Zorzit because his ex-wife lacks the assets to pay it, Bushel said.

John’s attorney, Cynthia E. Young, countered that Bailey acted within her judicial discretion in rejecting the firm’s effort to intervene.

The financial settlement the Zorzits carefully crafted, which included support for their two children, would be broken if attorney’s fees also had to be paid, said Young, an Annapolis solo practitioner.

A hearing on attorney’s fees would “take this case back to square one,” she told the high court.

But Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. disagreed.

Judges in divorce cases regularly decide financial issues, including child support and attorney’s fees, without rendering the underlying agreement invalid, he said.

Julie filed for divorce in February 2009, just days after federal prosecutors initiated civil forfeiture against John and his video gaming business, Nick’s Amusements Inc.

The prosecutors alleged that 17 properties and $237,000 in bank accounts were proceeds of an illegal gambling operation he and his company ran between 2003 and 2006.

In July 2010, John agreed to forfeit $1 million to the government in return for getting the properties and bank accounts back.

The following month, he reached an agreement with Julie under which she would get $1,500 per month in child support and the right to possess one of the couple’s properties. She agreed to waive any claim for attorney’s fees.

Tydings subsequently withdrew as Julie’s attorney, saying it could no longer advocate on her behalf.

At an Aug. 20 hearing, Bailey denied Tydings’ motion to intervene. She subsequently signed a Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

Tydings appealed, but the high court chose to hear the case without having it first considered by the Court of Special Appeals.

The Court of Appeals did not indicate when it will render a decision in Tydings & Rosenberg LLP v. John Zorzit, No. 145 September Term 2010.