The Mosby Effect: The inauguration of Baltimore's new state's attorney was a godly rebuke of her critics
By By Van Smith
Jan 13, 2015 | 8:14 PM
As a candidate last year for Baltimore City state’s attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby cast herself as a crime crusader who, unlike incumbent Gregg Bernstein, would sow dread among Baltimore criminals. Calling Bernstein so ineffective that “it’s no wonder that these street terrorists have absolutely no fear of being convicted, and it is empowering them to kill again and again,” she vowed, should she win, to “close the revolving door that has allowed the most violent offenders to repeatedly perpetrate crimes, in our communities and from jail, without repercussions.”
Having won in a celebrated upset, Mosby again put forth the crusader theme at her inauguration on Jan. 8 before a capacity crowd in the spacious ceremonial hall of the Baltimore War Memorial. This time, though, it was in a religious vein. Against a backdrop of three giant black-and-gold pennants announcing the event, the 34-year-old former assistant state's attorney, whose two young daughters and husband, Baltimore City Councilmember Nick Mosby, were at her side, thanked her campaign supporters by calling them "my team of gladiators" and asserting that "God put them in my path to help me get to where He wanted me to be."
"You see," Mosby proclaimed, "God is good. He makes a wave out of nowhere to satisfy skeptics, because they are still scratching their heads over how I won."
While Rabbi Jonathan Seidemann gave the invocation at the event, and Imam Earl El-Amim delivered the benediction, it was Baptist Bishop Walter Scott Thomas Sr.'s investiture prayer that drove home the contention that Mosby's election was God's will.
Thomas asked everyone to hold the hands of the people next to them, which nearly everyone did (except, it seemed, for the uniformed police who were present), and then he prayed. He thanked God for showing that He will "make everything turn out alright" by plying Mosby's "tenacity," "coupled with the right people and supported by those you love, knowing that the hand of God was upon them." In closing, Thomas said, "God, you knew a long time ago that this was going to happen, and now the day has come, and we salute you for giving us hope. We salute you for making Marilyn Mosby state's attorney for the City of Baltimore."
Whether the hand of God was involved in Mosby's election is, of course, a matter of faith. What she said during her 10-minute inauguration speech, though, is a matter of record, and reflects a much different persona than the tough-talking crime crusader that tore up the campaign trail.
Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s aphorism that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and while imploring all to “look at Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland,” where unarmed African-American men were killed by police acting with impunity, Mosby said, “every part of the government, especially the criminal-justice system, needs to be on the same page.” People “cannot and should not be led to believe,” she proclaimed, “that justice is accessible to some and not to all.” Noting that “the trust between our community and law enforcement is diminishing,” she declared that “the time to repair that trust, to come together . . . is now.”
Former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, currently president of the University of Baltimore, prefaced his remarks with the observation that Mosby was "2 years old" when Schmoke's own War Memorial inauguration as state's attorney was held in 1983. He then quoted at length the advice of former Attorney General Robert Jackson, who served under President Franklin Roosevelt, including Jackson's sage description of the prosecutor's job: "the prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America," and "while the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society," when acting out of "malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst."
As Mosby neared the end of her turn at the podium, she addressed Schmoke's emphasis on her youth, while also taking indirect aim at what her critics, both privately and publicly, have said about her: that's she's too inexperienced. "You see," Mosby intoned, "I'm no longer that little girl."
Ivan Bates, a defense attorney who previously prosecuted serious felonies as a Baltimore City prosecutor, wants her to be right about being ready for the big time, but is adopting a wait-and-see attitude. In a phone interview before the inauguration, Bates said, "I'm cautiously optimistic" because "I love Baltimore and want the best for Baltimore, so of course I want her and her administration to succeed." But, he adds, "what concerns me" is "she doesn't have the experience" a top prosecutor needs, because "she's never done a murder case, she's never done a rape, and she's never done a wiretap." Plus, Bates foiled with her in one of her last cases before she left the state's attorney's office in 2011, and found her performance seriously lacking, because she failed to disclose her key witness' serious and recent criminal background in Baltimore City.
"For her to overcome her issues with inexperience," Bates continued, "she needs a leadership team that has a great deal of experience in dealing with serious criminal matters in the Baltimore City Circuit Court."
When told who Mosby's top three appointments are—Michael Schatzow as chief deputy, Tammy Brown as head of external affairs, Steward Beckham as chief of administration—Bates said, "that is terrifying," because "you have not named a single person who has been immersed in the trial process of serious violent crimes in Baltimore City Circuit Court, and that's the experience it's very, very important for deputies to have. How are the prosecutors going to respond if they don't respect the leadership? They have to be constantly motivated, because they don't receive a great deal of pay. My whole issue has always been the lack of experience, and if you don't have it from the top, then you have to have it from the deputy."
Critiques of Mosby's lack of experience, though, did not sway the electorate, and now even some saber-rattlers like longtime defense attorney Anton Keating, who's run for the office before, are playing nice. "The time for the bullshit of campaigning is over," Keating wrote in response to City Paper's request for comment, and "the rubber will now hit the road." He added, "I wish her good luck and hope she is a great success."
Now that Mosby has been sworn in, her critic's swipes may best be taken as constructive criticism—and her speech suggested she's open to seeking, finding, and implementing "best practices" that make improvements. Peppered throughout it was the phrase, "we have work to do."
The very next day after the inauguration, Mosby announced the first big case brought under her brand-new tenure: the prosecution of Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook for negligent manslaughter by vehicle for running over and killing bicyclist Thomas Palermo in December. It's the kind of complex, forensics-driven, violent-crime case that will test the office's mettle under Mosby.
But Mosby's true test will be time. As Bates said, "it'll be interesting to see how the gentlemen on the street"—his colloquialism for the types of people he defends—"come to view her. I think after a while under Bernstein the message was starting to get around that the state's attorneys and Bernstein weren't playing. So I guess we'll have to see where we are around year three."