As controversies and investigations surrounding institutional sexual misconduct continue to spread, a local midsize firm is hoping to become the go-to counsel for victims of sexual assault.
Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin, a 29-lawyer firm in Lansdale, Montgomery County, has created a sexual assault and abuse team to work with alleged victims in various capacities. The group is led by partners Steven Barrett and William Roark, who are working with two paralegals. They will likely also draw on the experience of three former prosecutors who work at the firm, Barrett said, when questions of criminal law arise.
The new team also has its own website apart from the firm’s main site. Since that launched, Barrett said, a number of clergy abuse victims have already contacted his group.
Barrett said Hamburg Rubin had represented abuse and assault victims in the past, but moved to create a practice group after the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that detailed decades of abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church. But, he noted, they are hoping to reach alleged victims of various institutions, not just the church.
“With the grand jury report we said why don’t we go ahead and make it more of a discrete, known practice area where we devote manpower,” Barrett said. It’s an area where Hamburg Rubin has seen a dramatic increase in clients coming forward in recent months, Roark said.
One such client is Liz Goldman, a local doctor who recently came forward with allegations that a teacher sexually abused her at Bala Cynwyd Middle School when she was a student there in the 1980s. Since she told her story this fall, which appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, Goldman has been involved in advocating for legislation that would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to pursue legal action past the statute of limitations, Barrett said.
Even though Goldman is currently unable to pursue a claim against her alleged abuser, Barrett said he is still representing her. His new practice group aims to provide resources to alleged victims, such as steering them toward relevant support groups. Or, in the case of clergy abuse, a victims’ fund has been set up, and Barrett said he can assist clients in determining whether to and how to seek compensation from that fund.
“We sign them up as a client, but there’s more that can be done,” he said.
Barrett said he was involved “behind the scenes” with the statute of limitations legislation, “exerting pressure” on legislators to pass it. The state Senate did not pass the bill before the end of their last session, but if a similar bill is proposed again, Barrett said, “We have designs to be more vocal and be involved.”
The sexual abuse and assault team, Barrett said, is an example of how his firm attempts “to read the tea leaves” with regard to practices that will be in high demand. Along a similar vein, he noted, the firm launched a medical marijuana practice several years ago, chaired by Roark, who has become a leader within the local cannabis law community.
Barrett said he sees the new practice becoming more tethered to a greater social justice movement related to abuse, with the potential of partnerships with advocacy groups and psychological resources for survivors. And, he said, it’s an area where he does not expect the need to diminish.
“I don’t know how this is ever going to be curbed. I don’t think there’s a magic-bullet fix that young people are going to be shielded from predators out there,” he said. “Unfortunately this is something that is going to continuously happen in the future.”