Steve Kelly, Baltimore and Washington, DC Partner

Steve Kelly

Baltimore and Washington, DC Partner

Steve Kelly is a Partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp and Co-Chair of the firm’s Criminal/Sexual Violence Practice Group. 

Steve has been recognized in the legal community for his leadership in advocating for child and adult victims of sexual and other types of violence by the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the American Bar Association, the Maryland Governor, the Network for Victim Recovery Center (NVRDC), the Baltimore Child Abuse Center and the Maryland Crime Victim’s Resource Center and has been recognized as a Superlawyer® since 2003.

At Sanford Heisler Sharp, Steve’s practice has focused on representing individuals and classes of victims of violence against individuals and classes responsible for the criminal act. Steve’s practice grew out of personal tragedy. Steve has advocated for victims of violence since his sister was raped and murdered when he was 14 years old. He has an unwavering commitment to finding justice for survivors of sexual and other types of violence. Steve’s representations have included:

  • Achieving a landmark Title IX settlement against Dartmouth College on behalf of students who were sexually assaulted and/or harassed by a group of professors, culminating in a $14 million settlement and significant programmatic relief
  • Litigating on behalf of a class of women who were illicitly photographed by Rabbi Barry Freundel, resulting in a $14.25 million settlement against Kesher Israel Synagogue
  • Litigating on behalf of a group of families against the Glen Mar Early Learning Center, whose staff member sexually molested students under the age of five
  • Achieving a confidential settlement on behalf of a student at a prestigious school who was sexually abused by the school’s dean of students
  • Negotiating to obtain a substantial settlement for a victim who was sexually abused while incarcerated in a juvenile facility
  • Negotiating a confidential settlement on behalf of a middle school student who was sexually abused by her teacher at a DC Charter School
  • Successfully arguing in the Connecticut Supreme Court on behalf of a missing (and presumed murdered) victim’s family who was sued by the criminal suspect, Madeline Gleason, for posting missing person’s posters. The court overturned the trial court’s verdict against the family on First Amendment Grounds in a case with great significance to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other groups devoted to finding missing persons
  • Bringing the first mass action under the federal child pornography statute, Masha’s law, against more than 150 individuals who possessed, viewed, and distributed images of two very young girls being sexually abused by adult men
  • Successfully litigating on behalf of survivors in criminal cases across the country including cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and the Maryland Court of Appeals

Steve received his law degree cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center and his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from American University. During law school, Steve lobbied Congress on behalf of several national crime victim organizations for what became the Crime Victim Rights Act of 2004. Steve worked closely with Congressional staff, met regularly with members of Congress, and testified in numerous Congressional hearings. At Georgetown, Steve served on the Journal of Law and Public Policy, was recognized for his advocacy on behalf of victims by the Domestic Violence Clinic. During college, Steve was a member of highly competitive Debate Team and part of the University Honors program. He was also awarded the University Award for Service to the University Community and received University Honors. Steve was recognized with the Maryland Governor’s Citation for Service and the Maryland Crime Victim Resource Center’s Champion for Crime Victims Award and was selected as one of two American representatives to the World University Student’s Peace Summit in Kyoto, Japan.

A member of the Maryland and District of Columbia bars, Steve has authored/co-authored articles that appear in the American Bar Association publications on representing child-victims and in the American Bar Association’s guide on prosecutorial discretion, the U.S. Justice Department Guidelines for representing victims of crime, the U.S. Military’s training protocols for special victim counsel, and publications of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, the National Institute of Justice and numerous state and local organizations. Steve has presented at state and national conferences on crime victim rights in the criminal process, civil claims arising out of criminal acts, representing child-victims, criminal restitution, trauma-informed advocacy, and insurance coverage issues common in criminal/sexual violence cases.

Steve serves as the Chair of the Maryland State Board of Victim Services (appointed by Maryland Governor), is a member of the Conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Advisory Board for the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the American Bar Association Victim Committee, the National Alliance for Crime Victim Rights Attorneys (“NAVRA”), the National Crime Victim Bar Association, the Maryland Association of Justice, the Federal Bar Association and the Maryland Bar Association.

Before joining Sanford Heisler Sharp, Steve completed a clerkship for Judge Richard D. Bennett of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Prior to his clerkship, Steve was an associate at DLA Piper, where he litigated complex commercial disputes in federal courts throughout the country. Following his clerkship, Steve was an associate at Miles & Stockbridge, P.C., where he gained significant trial and appellate experience litigating complex commercial disputes, product liability cases, and anti-trust matters in addition to significant pro bono representation of victims.

When Steve is not lawyering, he enjoys spending time with his three children and two dogs in addition to hiking, fishing, and kayaking and doing everything possible to improve and promote his hometown of Baltimore.


  • J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, cum laude
    • Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy
  • B.A., American University, magna cum laude and with university honors


  • Honorable Richard D. Bennett, United States District Court for the District of Maryland

Bar Admissions

  • Maryland
  • District of Columbia

Court Admissions

  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
  • 2022 Maryland Daily Record and Maryland State Bar Association Leader in Law Honoree – Justice Champion
  • 2021-22 Lawdragon 500 Plaintiff Employment Lawyer
  • National Policy Team, Marcy’s Law for All, 2017-Present
  • Chair, Maryland State Board of Victim Services, 2016-Present
  • Advisory Board, National Crime Victim Law Institute, 2015-Present
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Baltimore Graduate School, 2012-Present
  • Board of Governors, Federal Bar Association Maryland Chapter, 2013-present
  • Roper Victim Assistance Academy Award for Outstanding Contribution to Victim Services, 2013
  • Permanent Member, Judicial Conference of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, 2009-present
  • Commissioner, Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, 2009-2016
  • Law Clerk, Honorable Richard D. Bennett, 2004-2005
  • Maryland Super Lawyers® – Selected for inclusion in the area of General Litigation, Civil Rights/First Amendment, 2010-Present
  • National Crime Victim Law Institute’s Legal Advocacy Award, 2012
  • MADD Maryland Operations Council, 2012-present
  • Miles & Stockbridge Pro Bono Award, 2009
  • Champion for Crime Victims Award presented by Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, 2008
  • Maryland Governor’s Award for Service to Crime Victims, 2000
  • The Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center: Board of Directors, 2000-present
  • American University’s Award for Service to the University Community, 1997
  • Florida Governor’s Award for Drug & Crime Free Schools, 1998

They have given me some closure for the first time in over five years.

“I was fighting on my own before I began working with Christine and her team [Steve Kelly, Nicole Wiitala, and Shaun Rosenthal]. When she took on my case, I was able to graduate college and eventually go on to graduate school. Words can’t describe how validating it was for someone to believe me and to go above and beyond in advocating for me. Christine was always attentive, patient, and reliable, making sure I was confident and comfortable in my decisions. I will be forever grateful to Christine and her team. They have given me some closure for the first time in over five years.”
– Former Client

Knowledgeable, Honest, and Hard-Working

“When you first seek legal help, it is natural to feel overwhelmed. In my experience, it is best to have a guide who is knowledgeable, honest, and hard-working. My legal team at Sanford Heisler Sharp – Russell Kornblith, Steve Kelly, and Carolin Guentert – navigated me through complex and difficult questions with steady assurance. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I had felt powerless before coming out against my abuser and the institution that employed him. My attorneys made me feel like I had the power to hold them to account for their actions. Russell and Carolin were consistently professional, communicative, and receptive to my needs during the legal process. As a team, we overcame legal hurdles and took steps towards a favorable resolution. With Sanford Heisler Sharp I feel that I obtained the best possible outcome for my case. I give Sanford Heisler Sharp the highest recommendation to represent your legal needs and advocate for your rights.
– Former Client

Unique ability to fight zealously

“Steve has a unique ability to fight zealously for his clients’ vision of justice. Steve draws from his personal life experiences, a distinguished legal education, and years of legal practice to offer his clients a rare combination of compassion and tenacity. I always have confidence that when I send someone Steve’s way that they will find a legal advocate like none other.”
– Bridgette Harwood, Co-Director of Network for Victim Recovery of DC

Caring lawyer who fights for survivors

“Kelly is among the top victim lawyers in the country. Whether he is working with an adult or child-victim, litigating in criminal or civil court, he tirelessly, compassionately and artfully fights for their voice to be heard and their rights protected. Steve is a kind, caring lawyer who fights for survivors. One cannot ask for more than that.”
– Meg Garvin, Executive Director, National Crime Victim Law Institute

Midshipmen-Cadet Suits Against Maersk Line, Limited

The complaints allege that, despite being aware of the history of sexual assault and harassment aboard their ships, commercial cargo vessel owner-operator Maersk Line failed to adequately protect two female students from sexual assault and sexual harassment while they worked aboard the Maersk M/V Alliance Fairfax as part of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s “Sea Year” program.

Polymer80 Ghost Gun Case

The Complaint, filed by the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, alleges that Polymer80 violates Maryland and federal firearms law by manufacturing, selling, and advertising easy-to-assemble, un-traceable gun kits and parts that have created a public nuisance in the City of Baltimore, where 91% of ghost guns seized by police are sold by Polymer80.

Dartmouth Title IX Class Action

The Complaint alleges that Dartmouth willfully ignored more than a decade of widespread sexual harassment by tenured professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen, who formed a private “predators club” and treated the PBS Department like a “21st Century Animal House.”

Rabbi Freundel Voyeurism Class Action

Early in 2015, Freundel pleaded guilty in a criminal proceeding before the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to numerous counts of illicitly filming women as they used the “mikvah”—a Jewish ritual bath frequently used by married Orthodox women as well as by women undergoing conversion to Judaism.

Prout, et al. v. St. Paul’s School

The complaint alleged that the prestigious prep school St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., failed to protect a 15-year-old student from rape in connection with “Senior Salute,” a sex competition ritual of which the headmaster and other school leaders had knowledge.

Doe v. Cabrera

Represented the plaintiff in a civil suit alleging that a Major League Baseball player raped a Washington, DC resident at the hotel where the player and his team were staying.

Smolinski v. Gleason

Successfully argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court that missing persons flyers constitute protected speech. The court’s ruling, a significant victory for victims’ First Amendment rights, overturned the trial verdict and appellate court in a case in which the family of a missing person had been held liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress after posting flyers that the plaintiff claimed defamed her.

Doe v. Bardell

The complaint—a first-of-its kind reverse mass action brought under Masha’s Law, a federal statute addressing the distribution of child pornography—alleged invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress against all those who downloaded or possessed pornographic images of a girl, 3, and her sister, 4, taken and distributed by their father and another man.

Doe v. Cardin School

The complaint alleged prolonged sexual abuse of a 14-year-old student by the dean of students at a religious school.

Ceasar v. Morgan State University

The complaint, a premises liability action, was brought on behalf of a young man who was brutally assaulted on the campus of Morgan State University by another student, the son of a school professor, who later confessed to killing and cannibalizing a second victim, and whose alarming behavior was known to all the senior leadership of the school prior to the attack on the plaintiff.