Already, lawyers representing victims brutalized decades ago by Catholic clergy or staff at an Annapolis private school had pledged to digitally file their complaints the moment the law takes effect Sunday.
The act takes effect as several new laws launch Oct. 1 across the region, including tougher gun laws in Maryland and a ban on cashless businesses in the District of Columbia. (Most new laws in Virginia take effect in July.)
Some of those abuse cases may be thwarted for now after the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for bankruptcy Friday and created an automatic block to suits from victims under the new law. Instead, survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse who want to sue the Archdiocese of Baltimore for damages will have to file a claim in the bankruptcy case.
Others lawsuits against other archdioceses, state or local governments and private schools could still go forward.
Robert K. Jenner, a lawyer who is part of a team that had planned to file complaints about the archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, as well as the private Key School in Annapolis, strongly condemned the archdiocese’s decision as “another rape, another violation of their rights.”
In a bankruptcy case, there would also be no opportunity for the survivors to tell their stories or for church officials to testify, which some victims see as a major blow to transparency. “All efforts by the survivors to have their voices heard, to seek justice, to seek accountability, to seek change are squelched once again,” Jenner said. “It is yet another act of abuse, another act of betrayal.”
The archdiocese characterized the bankruptcy as a route to fairness. In a letter posted on the archdiocese’s website Friday, Archbishop William Lori wrote, “Chapter 11 reorganization is the best path forward to compensate equitably all victim-survivors, given the Archdiocese’s limited financial resources, which would have otherwise been exhausted on litigation.”
While the state has no statute of limitations on criminal charges for child sex abuse, the previous laws required victims to sue for damages before they turned 38. Many sex abuse victims do not come to terms with their abuse until later in life, and state lawmakers tried for years to eliminate the statute of limitations for civil action too.
Advocates argued civil suits not only create a means for justice, but a discovery process that can compel organizations to admit to covering up abuse.
The General Assembly passed the law amid the release of a Maryland Attorney General report documenting sexual abuse and “physical torture” of 600 young people — from preschoolers to young adults — by more than 150 clergy members from the mid-1940s to 2002.
The report detailed horrifying abuse, including “tests of torture” that involved chaining and whipping a teenager, two sisters abused as grade-schoolers “hundreds of times,” and a deacon who admitted to molesting more than 100 minors over three decades. No one was criminally charged as a result of the report.
While the church abuse report was central to the law’s passage, it also creates new rights for child sex abuse victims attacked in other settings, including state facilities and schools.
Jenner said he and other attorneys had planned to file litigation on behalf of five victims this weekend, though the firm represented many more. He declined to estimate the number.
Two victims prepared to file lawsuits with Jenner’s assistance include Valerie Bunker and Carolyn Surrick, both 64. They were students at the progressive, private K-12 Key School in Annapolis and say they were sexually assaulted by teachers in a school environment where sexual abuse was an open secret. The allegations against teachers and faculty first came to light in January 2018 when Surrick, as part of the #MeToo movement, began posting about her experience under the hashtag #KeyToo.
A 2019 report by the school’s leadership found a “toxic culture” in which 10 adults sexually exploited vulnerable girls in the 1970s.
Maryland restricts guns in public
Starting Sunday, Maryland will outlaw carrying guns into range of public spaces, a move that has already prompted a constitutional challenge from the National Rifle Association and other Second-Amendment groups in courts. A federal judge on Friday ordered that the more far-reaching provisions of the law should not take effect because they are likely unconstitutional under recent Supreme Court rulings on gun-control.
Most people with concealed carry permits will be forbidden from bringing handguns into schools, parks and a broad array of public spaces, with exceptions for law enforcement, security guards and service members. But the judge said the parts of the law barring handguns from any private business or home without express permission of the owner could not take effect.
The law followed a landmark Supreme Court ruling that expanded the Second Amendment’s reach and effectively undermined Maryland’s strict rules for obtaining a concealed carry permit. In the year that followed the June 2022 ruling, the number of people granted concealed carry permits in Maryland more than tripled.
A separate gun law taking effect Sunday puts new limits on who can qualify for concealed carry permits, replacing criteria overturned by the Supreme Court that had required a “good and substantial” reason to get a permit. The new limits forbid concealed carry permits for people with a history of violence, those on probation for certain crimes or who had been twice convicted of improperly storing a gun in a way that left it accessible for a child.
Other new Maryland laws make it faster and easier to obtain a divorce and repeal a so-called “spousal rape” defense that protected people from conviction of rape if the victim was their spouse and no weapon was used.
Another new law grants the attorney general power to prosecute officer-involved deaths, an expansion of the agency’s role of investigating such killings. Previously, the attorney general would turn their investigations over to local officials, who would decide whether to pursue charges against officers.
Lawmakers also created a path for victims of hate crimes to file a lawsuit seeking damages against perpetrators.
D.C. expands 311 service, fertility treatments on Medicaid
Beginning Sunday, D.C.’s 311 call system for city services and non-emergencies will gain some new uses, expanding to allow residents to report broken equipment, overflowing recycling and maintenance issues at D.C. Public Schools and at Parks and Recreation facilities and land maintained by the Department of General Services.
Oct. 1 is not always a major date for new laws to take effect in D.C. — but it is the first day of city’s new fiscal year, which can mean changes to programs.
Starting Sunday, the personal needs allowance for residents living with disabilities who receive support from the District will increase from $100 to $150 monthly. A legal requirement begins Sunday that insurance plans for D.C. residents who use the DC Healthcare Alliance or Medicaid cover infertility treatment. Residents will be able to take advantage of this benefit starting Jan. 1; it also covers three cycles of ovulation-enhancing drugs.
A slew of other enacted laws will be funded in the new fiscal year, including a 2020 bill that prohibits city retailers from refusing cash payments or charging customers different amounts depending on their payment method — a civil issue that will fall to the city’s Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection to enforce, a spokesperson for D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson (D) said this week.
Oct. 1 will also mark the launch of a fee amnesty program for street vendors who are trying to get a vending license with certain delinquent fines.
Laura Vozzella and Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.