A former Baltimore prosecutor has filed a federal lawsuit against Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, saying Mosby fired her in January because she had openly supported her boss — former State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, whom Mosby ousted — in the 2014 primary election.
Keri Borzilleri, now a Prince George's County prosecutor, says her termination was part of an exodus of experienced attorneys that upended cases and might be contributing to this year's increase in violent crime.
Borzilleri had worked in the office since 2005, tried hundreds of cases and had an "exemplary record," she says in the lawsuit. She says she was given no reason for her termination on Jan. 9, but notes that a top Mosby official had asked her about her support for Bernstein a day earlier.
Borzilleri is seeking unspecified damages. She is being represented by Stacey Grigsby of the Washington firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which is handling the case pro bono.
"Although prosecutors are at-will employees, it is still illegal to fire them for certain reasons," Grigsby said.
"You can't be fired because of your race, because of your gender, because of your physical disability, even if you are an at-will employee. It's also unlawful under the Constitution to fire somebody simply because that person supports your political rival."
Six attorneys were fired soon after Mosby took over, Borzilleri says in the lawsuit, and 30 more have left since then. Those numbers do not include top Bernstein officials who left on their own.
There are 127 positions for assistant state's attorneys in the office's most recent budget.
In a statement, the office said it would "continue to focus on taking violent offenders off the streets and pursuing justice for victims of crime."
"We have not yet seen a copy of this alleged complaint but we refuse to be distracted by disgruntled employees or frivolous lawsuits," the state's attorney's office said in a statement. "Our record of pursuing violent offenders speaks for itself, specifically our 75 percent homicide conviction rate."
The office has said that it was the new administration's prerogative to make changes but has declined to address why individual employees were let go.
Mosby told The Baltimore Sun editorial board in April that questions about the personnel changes — "as if this is unheard of" — were off-base.
Borzilleri is at least the third employee who has said he or she was fired without cause.
Cristie Cole, a research analyst, sent an office-wide email after she was fired in which she also said she was fired for supporting Bernstein. Cole had worked at the same polling station as Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby, Marilyn Mosby's husband.
Grant McDaniel, an 18-year veteran of the office, told The Sun in January that he was "separated without cause" and left behind a caseload of more than 130 cases. Bernstein's ex-wife, Terry Schafer, was also terminated.
Other Bernstein supporters continue to work in the office. And Mosby's top hire, Chief Deputy Michael Schatzow, contributed nearly $4,000 to Bernstein's campaign.
Mosby told The Sun in April that her office had made "substantive changes" to the office, including creation of a new criminal strategies unit and hiring more community liaisons.
In July, the office tweeted a picture of a new crop of prosecutors being sworn in.
"Clearly the leadership team I've put in place, we've been able to be highly successful," Mosby said in April.
In her lawsuit, Borzilleri says the departures "did and will continue to have a negative effect on pending prosecutions," and cites cases that were dismissed in the fallout.
Firearms and drug charges against Dontae Small were dropped in January after McDaniel was let go and a replacement prosecutor asked Judge Barry Williams for a postponement.
Williams, who is now overseeing the trials of the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, asked why the state's attorney's office had fired a prosecutor with such a heavy caseload without a contingency plan, and refused to postpone the case.
Small was later arrested for carjacking a Federal Hill resident at gunpoint and crashing through a fence at Fort Meade.
In her suit, Borzilleri says that "no fewer than five individuals who murdered someone in the City of Baltimore were previously released in cases under Ms. Mosby's administration."
Borzilleri was hired as a law clerk in 2005 and worked alongside Mosby in District Court. She handled mostly violent crimes, including 50 attempted-murder cases. In 2009, she won an award presented by local, state and federal law enforcement for prosecution of a repeat offender.
She was working as one of three "community prosecutors," serving as a liaison between the state's attorney's office and the community and police. In that role, she also worked with the Operation Ceasefire program.
Borzilleri says she supported Bernstein but had no formal involvement in his campaign. In June, she hosted a meet-and-greet event with Bernstein at her home that was attended by 20 people. Bernstein's campaign posted pictures of the event on its Facebook page.
At a community event in Upton that she attended in her role as a prosecutor, she says, "Mosby did not formally greet Ms. Borzilleri but glared directly at Ms. Borzilleri during Mr. Bernstein's presentation."
After Mosby was sworn in and had hired a new front office. Borzilleri says, she met with one of the new officials about becoming a part of a new unit. She says she was pulled aside by the official, who said they needed to talk and asked her to describe any connection to the Bernstein campaign "before it became an issue."
The next day, she says, she was pulled into a conference room by Steward Beckham, Mosby's chief of administration, and informed she had been terminated effective immediately. She was led out of the office by an armed officer.
A new policy manual for the office, distributed in March and which employees were required to sign, states that employees "may be terminated 'at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all.'"
Borzilleri's attorneys call that a "misstatement of law."