Michele Zavos Wins William J. Brennan Jr. Award

By David O’Boyle

May 10, 2019

Michele Zavos

The D.C. Bar has selected Michele Zavos, a partner at Delaney McKinney LLP, as this year’s recipient of its William J. Brennan Jr. Award for her commitment to pursuing equal justice and opportunity for all Americans. Zavos will be honored at the Celebration of Leadership: The D.C. Bar Awards Dinner and Annual Meeting at the Grand Hyatt Washington on June 11.

“It’s humbling and exciting to receive the Brennan Award,” says Zavos, whose practice focuses on developing legal protections for families, including families headed by same-sex couples. “To be recognized for a lifetime of work is kind of overwhelming. I’m really proud of how I’ve been able to change the law to protect LGBT families.”

Zavos says she is most proud of her work in changing the law to recognize LGBT families, such as when she served as lead counsel in Port v. Cowan before the Maryland Court of Appeals. The court held that Maryland must recognize valid marriages between same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions. She also points to her representation of clients — both same-sex and opposite-sex couples — in adoption matters. Among the D.C. legal community, Zavos is colloquially known as the “Queen of Adoptions.”

Zavos began her career as a staff attorney representing low-income clients with the Georgia Legal Services Program and state prisoners in Maryland through the Prisoner Assistance Project in Baltimore. She also clerked for Judge Gladys Kessler when the judge was chief of the Family Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Zavos pioneered HIV/AIDS legal and policy work through the American Bar Association. Since then, she has been a true trailblazer in ensuring legal protections for LGBT individuals and families. “Just to be able to get people a little respect in their lives has been amazing,” she says.

“I love being a lawyer, and I love being a member of the D.C. Bar,” says Zavos. “I’m lucky to work in such an open and progressive environment. That has meant a lot for the work I do.”

Established in 1993, the Brennan Award is presented biennially (alternating with the Justice Thurgood Marshall Award) to a D.C. Bar member who has demonstrated excellence in and dedication to the field of civil rights and individual liberties.