Zirkin Files Defamation Suit Against California Media Company

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (Photo by David Stuck)

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11), who represents Owings Mills and Pikesville, has filed a defamation suit against a California-based digital media company that accuses the company of falsely portraying him in a video as an unidentified Baltimore Ravens fan searching for prostitutes.

The lawsuit filed in the Baltimore County Circuit Court last month states that the video, published by Shandy Media Inc. two days after the Ravens’ Oct. 15 game against the Chicago Bears, shows the back of a person who clearly is not Zirkin browsing through scandalous ads on a classified website before it cuts to a shot of the state senator. A Shandy official admitted the two men are different people in an email exchange with Zirkin.

In the complaint, lawyers for Zirkin accused Shandy of causing substantial, immediate and irreparable harm to his character and reputation. It also claims the video has “caused mental anguish and personal humiliation” for Zirkin, a married father of two.

The video, titled “Ravens Fan Gets Caught Looking for Prostitutes on Craigslist During Game,” shows the back of a fan in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium scrolling through what appears to be ads for prostitutes on the website Backpage. The man appears to have a much heavier physique than Zirkin and bushy gray hair, and is shown with no wedding band on his ring finger. The video then transitions to a Getty Images stock photo of Zirkin with his 8-year-old daughter outside London’s Wembley Stadium on Sept. 24, where the Ravens played the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The announcer in the video declares, “Yikes. I feel bad for this guy’s wife and kids. What’s the raunchiest thing you’ve ever seen go down at a sporting event?” according to the lawsuit.

In a brief back-and-forth email exchange on Oct. 18, Shandy content manager of audience development Leo Demirjian told Zirkin the video “clearly shows a different person searching for prostitutes on his phone. … The photo we used was a stock photo and we had no obligation to remove it, but still went ahead and removed it as a favor to you, a serving state Senator.”

Zirkin, who is a partner at Pikesville-based Zirkin and Schmerling Law, promised “to take all actions available in this matter” in his retort to Demirjian.

In an interview with the JT Thursday, Zirkin said the email was “beyond outrageous, because the fact that I’m a senator shouldn’t matter. [Shandy] took the video down because it is fraudulent and defamatory.”

Zirkin added: “I appreciate [that Shandy] admitted what they did, admitted they lied and admitted that this happened, but that does not excuse them from this blatant lie or ease the pain this has caused my family. The only relief I take in this is that it was my picture they decided to use and not some vulnerable person who doesn’t have the resources to fight back or a child. This could have been anyone that they randomly targeted, and it is clear that people need protections from internet vultures like this.”

Demirjian did not respond to a request for comment.

Zirkin’s attorneys, Timothy F. Maloney and Alyse L. Prawde, claim in the lawsuit that the video’s producers knew the statements about Zirkin were false and made the decision to publish with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Justin J. King issued a temporary restraining order against Shandy, also known as Obsev Studios, to stop showing the production on Oct. 23, less than a week after the video first surfaced.

Zirkin wants a court order mandating the defendants remove the video link from their websites and social media platforms and inform all other websites that have published the video of its falsity. He is also seeking damages in excess of $75,000, which would cover court costs, attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.

The video has been shared thousands of times on influential sports blogs with strong followings such as the blog of Baltimore-based Charm City Sports Network co-founder Phil Gentile, another defendant named in the suit.

A representative from Zirkin’s office contacted Charm City Sports Network through the blog’s Facebook page about the false information, the complaint reads, but someone wrote back that “[the network’s] contact information is f—@you.com.”

In the complaint, Zirkin’s attorneys surmised there is a good chance that the senator’s constituents may have viewed the video since Charm City Sports Network is geared toward Baltimore sports fans.

For now, Charm City Sports Network’s website has been taken down.

Gentile did not respond to a request for comment.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

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