Maryland State Senator Compares Bill on Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits to Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation Process
By Pamela Wood
March 5, 2020
A Maryland senator ruffled feathers in Annapolis by sending a lengthy letter to his fellow Republicans, urging them to vote against a bill that would give survivors of child sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers.
In his letter, Sen. Robert Cassilly draws parallels to the confirmation process of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was questioned about allegations that he assaulted a young woman at a teenage party decades ago. He suggests that giving abuse survivors unlimited time to sue would be akin to the “travesty” of the Kavanaugh hearings.
“As the Kavanaugh hearing showed, every day after an event occurs justice becomes less likely as it becomes increasingly more difficult to capture the truth,” wrote Cassilly, a Harford County Republican who also is an attorney.
The letter, which was sent Feb. 10 to Republican members of the House of Delegates, frustrated Del. C.T. Wilson, who has been working for years to make it easier for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits.
Wilson said he was “thoroughly disappointed” with “the tone of the letter, defending Kavanaugh and basically trying to light a fire” under Republicans to oppose the bill and “shockingly disappointed” with Cassilly.
A Democrat who represents a district in Southern Maryland, Wilson suggested Cassilly was trying to make a political issue out of the bill by sending it only to Republicans.
“In such a hyper-partisan world, right now we need to be doing better and working closer,” said Wilson, a survivor of child abuse.
Cassilly said he wasn’t trying to play politics. He said he wanted lawmakers to consider the implications of allowing unlimited time to file lawsuits, including that it’s difficult to defend against decades-old allegations.
“I’m just educating them on the bill they’re facing. That’s all. I don’t see any problem,” Cassilly said.
He dismissed Wilson’s criticism as “nonsense.” He said he didn’t feel it was his place to “lecture” the House of Delegates, but thought it was appropriate to share his views with his fellow Republicans.
He wrote in his letter: “This unprecedented, radical bill is nothing less than a threat to the very legitimacy of our civil justice system.”
In 2017, Maryland lawmakers gave victims more time to sue, increasing the age limit to sue from 25 to 38, after a yearslong push by lawmakers, including Wilson, who testified about his own abuse.
Wilson’s bill this year would grant survivors of child sexual abuse unlimited time to file a civil lawsuit and create a two-year window that would permit survivors who were barred previously from suing to do so. Criminal cases already have no statute of limitations.
A version of the bill passed the House of Delegates last year, but failed in the Senate.
As Americans have gained more awareness about the problem of child sexual abuse, several states have lifted their statutes of limitations on civil lawsuits.
There’s been national attention to issues such as the Catholic church covering up abuse of children by priests and a Michigan sports doctor who molested hundreds of athletes, including Olympic gymnasts, under the guise of medical treatment. The Boy Scouts of America recently filed for bankruptcy, with abuse lawsuits cited as one of the reasons.
Locally, survivors have come forward with stories of abuse at institutions such as the former Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore and the Key School in Annapolis. They and advocates for survivors have joined Wilson to push for the bill.
The bill has been opposed behind the scenes by institutions such as the Maryland Catholic Conference, the church’s lobbying arm in Annapolis.
A House of Delegates committee held a public hearing on the bill, but no vote has been taken or scheduled.
Wilson said he’ll keep fighting.
“I have no idea what tomorrow’s going to bring," he said. "But as I tell survivors: All I can do is fight.”
Baltimore Sun Media reporter Selene San Felice contributed to this article.