Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has a campaign fundraiser with tickets ranging from $250 to $1,000 scheduled for Sept. 16 — just days after key pretrial hearings in her case against the police officers charged in Freddie Gray's arrest and death.
The fundraiser's timing has sparked criticism, coming as it does after a judge is asked to rule on major issues such as whether the closely watched case should be tried outside the city, or even dismissed. Circuit Judge Barry Glenn Williams will hear motions Wednesday and on Sept. 10, and city officials have been preparing for any protests or unrest that could erupt over his rulings.
"Certainly in the midst of so much attention and the nervousness of the city during this period of time, it probably could have been saved for another time," said Warren A. Brown, a Baltimore defense attorney who is not involved in the Freddie Gray case. Brown supported Mosby's opponent, incumbent Gregg Bernstein, in the 2014 Democratic primary.
State's attorney spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie referred calls for comment to Colleen Martin-Lauer, who handles fundraising for Mosby. The longtime Democratic fundraiser said the event was no different from any that she holds for clients who need to collect money throughout the election cycle — either to pay debts from previous campaigns or to stockpile for future races. Like many other candidates, Mosby made a series of loans to her campaign.
"Fundraisers are part of the political process for the state's attorney and other city and state officials," said Martin-Lauer, whose client list includes presidential hopeful and former Gov. Martin O'Malley and many current City Council members. Until a split this summer, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also was a client.
"We needed to raise money," she said of the event for Mosby, who was elected last year. "We do elect state's attorneys."
Mosby has become a well-known figure since her decision to charge six officers in the April 19 arrest and death of Gray, who died of a severed spine suffered while in police custody. Each officer has pleaded not guilty.
Outrage over Gray's death triggered massive demonstrations that descended into rioting on April 27, the day of his funeral.
Mosby opted to announce the charges on May 1 from the steps of the War Memorial, drawing cheers from those who wanted to see the officers prosecuted, but criticism from those who saw it as the first of a series of attention-seeking turns. Since then, her appearance on stage at a concert by Prince, as a guest ringmaster at the UniverSoul Circus, and on the pages of Vogue and other magazines have led some to question whether she draws too much of the spotlight to herself rather than to the work of her office.
In mid-July, her husband, City Councilman Nick Mosby, canceled a fundraiser of his own after her image was used to promote the event. The councilman is considering a run for mayor, and, by law, his wife's campaign could transfer up to $6,000 to his coffers.
The September fundraiser is yet another of these "dangerous missteps," said Laura Coates, a former prosecutor in Washington who now teaches and writes about the law. Coates previously criticized Mosby for appearing at the Prince show in a Baltimore Sun op-ed article.
"It's almost as if she's deliberately thumbing her nose at critics," Coates said.
Among the motions Williams will hear Wednesday and next week are two aimed directly at Mosby: one charging prosecutorial misconduct and another seeking that she remove herself from the case. That she would opt to have a fundraiser after a judge is asked to rule on such issues makes it appear that "her actions are more calculated for her personal gains," Coates said.
David LaBahn, president and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said that all elected prosecutors face similar dilemmas. "They have to follow what the fundraising cycle is," LaBahn said. "You only have a particular amount of time to raise money."
Big-city prosecutors like Mosby have particular challenges, he said.
"Freddie Gray is an incredibly high-profile case," LaBahn said. "But you're probably never going to have a time when your office is not involved in a high-profile case."
Carla Miller, the ethics officer for Jacksonville, Fla., who founded a nonprofit, City Ethics, as a clearinghouse for local governments, said she didn't see a conflict of interest in Mosby having a fundraiser as the Gray hearings were beginning.
Still, the public perception of the fundraiser could be problematic for Mosby. "If [your re-election campaign] is three years away, why are you doing it now?"
Miller said elected prosecutors like Mosby still have to engage in fundraising even as they conduct the work of their office, and they will always be scrutinized for whether they are capitalizing on the attention the job brings.
"Elected officials are always subject to people questioning their every move," Miller said. "Are you taking advantage of the timing? Are you taking advantage of the attention the trial is bringing?"
Brown, the defense attorney, said the campaign event may have been scheduled this month to avoid future problems raising funds should the case not go Mosby's way. "This could sour her relationship [with current supporters] and dull her star if things don't turn out right for her," he said.
Tickets to the event, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, range from $250 for "guests," $500 for "sponsors" and $1,000 for "hosts."
Defense lawyer Dwight Pettit, who opted for the middle level, said he wanted to show support for Mosby while she is under so much scrutiny because of the Gray case.
"I want to make sure during this time while she's under attack in some quarters, she knows those of us who have been with her are still with her," Pettit said.
"Politicians always need to raise money, even though it's a little early in her case," he said of Mosby being less than a year into her term.
"I'm sure she'll be criticized," he added. "She's been under attack since Day One."