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Baltimore lawyer honored for pro bono work fights for prisoners’ religious freedoms

‘Not only is he an excellent lawyer, but he also gives associates at the firm a lot of responsibility,’ a colleague says of Andrea Trento, the pro bono coordinator at Hogan Lovells’ Baltimore office. ‘He really goes above and beyond.’ Trento received the distinguished Pro Bono Volunteer Award from the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland on Saturday during the Maryland State Bar Association’s annual meeting in Ocean City. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

‘Not only is he an excellent lawyer, but he also gives associates at the firm a lot of responsibility,’ a colleague says of Andrea Trento, the pro bono coordinator at Hogan Lovells’ Baltimore office. ‘He really goes above and beyond.’ Trento received the distinguished Pro Bono Volunteer Award from the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland on Saturday during the Maryland State Bar Association’s annual meeting in Ocean City. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

For many men, facial hair length can be a style choice or a religious requirement. For prisoner Gregory Holt, his freedom to grow a half-inch beard for religious purposes was taken away due to Arkansas state law. And when the ACLU sought help in pursuing Holt’s legal case, it came to one Baltimore lawyer.

“There are lots of little requirements in prison about what you can eat, religious articles of clothing worship services,” and more, said Andrea Trento, who wrote an amicus brief in support of Holt. “All of these are issues that have come up in the prison context before, and for the most part prisons are given a lot of leeway in managing their population – courts have been reluctant to tell prisons to give people exceptions.”

Trento, a commercial litigator at Hogan Lovells US LLP in Baltimore, has garnered a reputation for protecting the religious rights of inmates, to the point that one prisoner reached out to Trento specifically requesting his counsel.

Trento, who serves as his office’s pro bono coordinator, received the Distinguished Pro Bono Volunteer Award from the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland on Saturday during the Maryland State Bar Association’s annual meeting in Ocean City.

“I’m the one that gets people staffed on pro bono cases,” he said. “If people want to do it and don’t have a good lead, they’ll come to me and I’ll try to hook them up with someone who needs assistance.”

Trento himself has worked with SARC, the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center, and Baltimore Healthy Start, which provides health care and services to low-income pregnant women and infants, as part of his pro bono work.

“Andrea does an enormous amount of work coordinating pro bono activities at the firm and making sure the firm is having a positive impact on the Baltimore community and the bar nationally,” said David Fautsch, Trento’s colleague. “He puts a great deal of time into helping people find projects that are going to be meaningful for them personally and are going to have an impact.”

‘Remarkably committed’

The Holt case ended up at the Supreme Court, where the justices unanimously agreed the prisoner could be granted an exception for his facial hair.

“This was my first case with Andrea, and it was a joy,” said Jonathan Abram, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells’ Washington office, in an email. “He is a remarkably committed and talented lawyer who puts his all into his work.”

The prisoner who came looking for Trento was a Rastafarian in Louisiana with dreadlocks, which go against the state’s rule about extreme and long hairstyles for males in prison. The trial took place in February and a ruling is pending.

Religious freedom for prisoners, while not a very common undertaking for most lawyers, is very closely related to current events and cropping up more in the justice system, Trento said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we got another letter from someone [in prison],” he said. “It’s an interesting opportunity, an interesting issue, one that I think is pretty current, in the sense that it implicates same freedom of religion issues that are hot-button political issues.”

Whether it’s mundane liability waivers or working with “more thorny” issues such as turning over legal records, Trento said he has enjoyed his pro bono work outside his day-to-day defense litigation for businesses.

“SARC in particular I’ve worked closely with over the years,” the lawyer said. “I feel like it’s been a very rewarding experience to interact with them.”

As pro bono coordinator for, Trento said he gets the opportunity to handle and pass on many interesting, worthwhile cases, citing his office’s “willingness to help and take matters on.”

“Not only is he an excellent lawyer,” said Fautsch, “and it’s good to learn from the way that he works and writes and thinks, but he also gives associates at the firm a lot of responsibility. He really goes above and beyond.”