When Scotland native Stephen Cullen arrived in Baltimore in 1989, he was struck by the fact that in the United States only the poorest criminal defendants are entitled to a public defender and that in civil cases almost everyone has to pay for an attorney.
Since coming to the United States, the Towson resident has devoted thousands of hours to pro bono, or free, legal work. He is to receive the American Bar Association's Pro Bono Publico Award today in Atlanta for his work on behalf of abducted children throughout the world.
Spending 10 to 15 hours a week on free legal work and the rest of his time in commercial litigation, family law and general litigation, Cullen - a partner with the law firm of Miles & Stockbridge PC - is among four lawyers who will be honored with the award.
Cullen, who directs his firm's Pro-Bono Advocate Program, has handled cases of children abducted to, or from, all corners of the globe. The list of countries includes Turkey, Bolivia, Japan, Finland and Ghana.
Since he began working in Baltimore, Cullen has taken dozens of cases involving international child abduction, many on behalf of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a nonprofit organization founded by America's Most Wanted host John Walsh.
Nancy Hammer, a lawyer for the organization, said Cullen has worked with the center on at least 51 cases and has helped recover 80 children from 27 countries. Hammer said the Baltimore lawyer has led the way in developing litigation for international child abduction cases.
Cullen's introduction to Baltimore came in 1989, when he spent a summer interning with Miles & Stockbridge through a student exchange program arranged by his law school, the University of Edinburgh. He returned to the United States in 1992, marrying a Baltimore County woman he met at Edinburgh. After divorcing, Cullen remarried, and he and his family live in Towson.
Miles & Stockbridge Chairman John Frisch says Cullen has a positive outlook.
"Stephen has a terrific sense of humor, which helps him in stressful situations," Frisch said. "A lot of what he does is last minute, and at a moment's notice he will drop everything and be in a federal court."
Cullen says he seeks to raise awareness of international child abduction.
"I don't sit here doing pro bono work because I want to win an award," he said. "Anything I can do to get publicity for missing and exploited children is good."