The Maryland Court of Appeals has dismissed charges of deceptive advertising against Hyatt Legal Services, a cut-rate law firm with offices throughout the country.
The dismissal of the charges, brought by a committee of the state bar, means that Hyatt's offices in Maryland will be allowed to continue doing business.
Hyatt, an Ohio lawyer whose firm is based in Kansas City, Mo., has 159 offices across the country and employs 450 lawyers.
The Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, an arm of the state bar association, charged three years ago that television ads featuring firm founder Joel Z. Hyatt were misleading because Hyatt did not practice in Maryland. The commission said the ads led people to believe that Hyatt himself was available for consultation with Maryland residents.
But the appellate court ruling handed down late last week dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction -- on the grounds that Hyatt is not a Maryland lawyer. The court also ordered the grievance commission to pay $3,000, to compensate for Hyatt's expenses in the case.
Hyatt said the appeals court decision "proves that the case never should have been brought in the first place. While I never sought to pick a fight with a local bar association, neither will I ever walk away from one when I know that Hyatt Legal Services is right."
Last April, the appeals court asked Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Howard S. Chasanow to review the Hyatt issue. In a long opinion, Chasanow found that the firm's title, Hyatt Legal Services, was not misleading and that the reduced rates advertised were usually consistent with actual charges.
However, Chasanow did find that some of Hyatt's commercials were deceptive because they led viewers to believe that Hyatt was available to work with clients personally.