Ex-Maryland state Sen. Robert ‘Bobby’ Zirkin advertises legal assistance under Child Victims Act, which he once testified against

Tribune Content Agency

Former Maryland state Sen. Robert “Bobby” Zirkin, a personal injury lawyer, has joined the growing and pervasive number of law firms advertising services to abuse survivors under the Child Victims Act.

Zirkin once testified in opposition to the law on behalf of the Catholic Church, but now finds himself in a position to bring in business because of it.

“The law had been determined by The Attorney General for many years to violate the Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights. Nevertheless, the General Assembly passed the legislation,” read an email from his law firm, Zirkin & Schmerling Law.

After four hard-fought legislative sessions, the Maryland General Assembly in 2023 passed the Child Victims Act, which eliminates the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, allowing them to sue their perpetrators and the institutions that their abusers worked for.

According to CHILD USA, a national think tank focusing on child protection and civil statute reform, survivors of childhood sexual abuse typically don’t report what they endured until they are well into adulthood — 52 years old, on average.

The law goes into effect Oct. 1, with a provision permitting the Maryland Supreme Court to determine the law’s constitutionality before cases are heard in a lower court.

“The new law, should it withstand Constitutional challenges, presents huge opportunities for victims to sue their state and local governments for millions of dollars,” the email from Zirkin’s law firm said.

The bill was the third to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Wes Moore at the end of the legislative session in April. It passed out of the state legislature within an hour of the release of a 463-page redacted report from the Attorney General’s Office uncovering the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s attempt to cover up the sexual abuse and torture of hundreds of minors over eight decades.

Since the report’s release, The Baltimore Sun has uncovered the names of several priests and high-ranking clergymen redacted from it.

Before resigning from the General Assembly in late 2019, Zirkin chaired the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the bill that attempted to build off expanded sexual abuse survivor policy that passed in 2017 would falter before it could reach the Senate floor.

The legislation found success in 2023 in large part due to House of Delegates Economic Matters Chair C.T. Wilson, a Democrat who was the bill’s unyielding sponsor and is a survivor of child sexual abuse.

Other survivors and advocates helped the bill’s passage. So did Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat, who has chaired the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee since Zirkin stepped down.

Lobbying records show that the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm for the three archdioceses that cover the state, paid over $166,000 to lobbyists from 2020 to 2022.

The money went to former Gov. Martin O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese and Zirkin, who also operates Zirkin and Schmerling Public Affairs, a lobbying and government relations firm.

In Maryland, former lawmakers must wait one year before they are able to register as lobbyists.

Zirkin appeared virtually before his former committee during the 2021 legislative session on behalf of the Maryland Catholic Conference to testify in opposition to the legislation he is now advertising to his clients.

“This is a bill that has problems on its policy, not in its focus on trying to get justice for victims — that’s not the issue with this bill,” Zirkin said while testifying.

Zirkin did not respond to requests for comment last week.

But with an Oct. 1 enactment date looming, his law firm — like many others — is now advertising to childhood sexual abuse survivors of all ages.

“Though cases of child sexual abuse continue to occur at alarming rates, Maryland has just passed a proposal that will make it easier for child sexual abuse survivors to sue those who caused them harm,” the Zirkin & Schmerling Law website reads.