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Senate president defends Baltimore County senator accused of attempting to delay trial

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller on Friday defended a Baltimore County senator accused of joining a lawsuit in order to get a special postponement granted only to lawmakers.

Miller said Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin withdrew from the defense team for the University of Maryland Medical System in a medical malpractice case because the General Assembly Ethics Guide says lawmakers generally cannot earn income from state agencies or quasi-governmental agencies.

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According to the Ethics Office, the University of Maryland Medical System could qualify as a quasi-governmental institution, Miller said.

"When he found that out, he got out of the case," Miller said from the state Senate floor. Zirkin later confirmed that account, and said he was not compensated for his work on the case before he withdrew from it.

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Zirkin, a lawyer in private practice who also chairs the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, joined the defense team for the medical system 13 days before the trial was to begin. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Althea M. Handy wrote in an order that she thought Zirkin joined the case to obtain a delay for his client.

Legislators who work as attorneys can invoke "legislative privilege" to request postponements when the General Assembly is in session for 90 days between January and April each year.

Zirkin, a Democrat who was absent from the Senate on Friday, has defended his actions and called the arguments made by the opposing attorney "absolutely defamatory and false." On Thursday, Zirkin said he withdrew from the case because he was concerned about becoming a distraction.

Miller, also a lawyer in private practice, said Zirkin "did nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong."

Miller said the judge's ruling was "a very harsh opinion" that was filed after Zirkin was no longer involved in the case.

"As president of the Senate, I just want to stand up for the members, for the chairman having his name besmirched in two national newspapers without him realizing that he had done anything wrong, when in fact he hadn't," Miller said.

Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, a Harford County Republican who sits on Zirkin's committee, said it's "regrettable" how Zirkin has been treated.

"As someone who often publicly spars with the chairman, I find him to be a highly ethical and sincere human being, and I totally echo the comments by the president," Cassilly said.

Court records show the case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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