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Mosby's chief deputy steps forward to defend her

Deputy Chief Michael Schatzow stands behind Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby during a February news conference.
Deputy Chief Michael Schatzow stands behind Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby during a February news conference. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

Michael Schatzow is the very serious man with the curly white hair who stands behind Marilyn Mosby at news conferences. On May 1, when the state's attorney loudly announced charges against the Freddie Gray Six — now the Freddie Gray One-At-A-Time-Times-Six — the nation got its first look not only at Mosby, but also at Schatzow, a longtime attorney who came out of retirement from a prestigious law firm to become her chief deputy.

Wednesday morning in Baltimore Circuit Court, it was Schatzow who took the lead, defending Mosby against accusations of professional misconduct. It was as if Schatzow had assumed the role of her defense counsel, and Mosby needed every bit of his help.

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Lawyers for the six police officers accused in Gray's death were seeking dismissal of the charges, contending that Mosby had made prejudicial statements that rendered a fair trial difficult, if not impossible. Attorney Andrew Jay Graham artfully argued that case, painting an unflattering portrait of Mosby as a grandstanding and reckless prosecutor who violated the rules on pretrial publicity.

Graham compared Mosby's announcement of the charges at the Baltimore War Memorial to "some sort of a pep rally" or "motivational speech" to fire up the citizenry for convictions of the officers. He said Mosby's invocation of the rallying cry, "No Justice, No Peace," suggested that the city otherwise would collapse into anarchy.

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He also accused Mosby of releasing bits of evidence about the case, something prohibited by Maryland's rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

All of that, along with Mosby's answer to a reporter's question about the accused officers, violated the rights of the Freddie Gray Six to a fair trial, Graham argued. It "poisoned the minds" of potential jurors.

When it was his turn, Schatzow rose from the prosecution's trial table and did all the talking for the state. Mosby did not say a word. She sat behind her chief deputy and listened to him argue in her defense.

Mosby's statements had been twisted by the attorneys for the officers, Schatzow told Judge Barry Williams. "She never expressed a personal opinion of the officers' guilt," Schatzow said. All she did on that day at the War Memorial was read a statement of charges; the rules allow that.

"She did not ask the crowd to go home and convince their neighbors to convict the officers," he said.

Schatzow noted Mosby's expression of hope that "everyone will respect due process and refrain from doing anything that would jeopardize our ability to seek justice."

Said Schatzow: "That's hardly an invitation for a lynch mob."

There was a quick exchange between Schatzow and Williams about whether it's the prosecutor's job to "calm the city" — the judge said it wasn't — and a back-and-forth on whether Mosby had commented on evidence in violation of the rules.

In the end, Williams said that Mosby's conduct, "while troubling," did not rise to the level of prejudice against the defendants. He rejected the motion to dismiss the charges, and the state had its first victory in the case.

Credit Schatzow, whose hiring was one of Mosby's smartest moves since taking office in January. Almost twice Mosby's age, Schatzow is a former federal prosecutor and an experienced trial attorney known for his brilliance, integrity and tenacity. He retired as a partner at Venable LLP before going to work for the state's attorney.

While at Venable, he supervised dozens of attorneys in major litigation, with Enron among his clients. But he also represented the indigent. Most notably, he and attorney Mitchell Mirviss represented plaintiffs in DeWolfe v. Richmond, an important case that established the right to counsel of poor defendants at their initial bail hearings in Maryland.

"The quickest wit on the block, incredibly hard-working, incapable of holding back or giving it anything less than 200 percent, the most zealous advocate you will ever meet" is how Mirviss described Schatzow recently. "Few lawyers can match Mike's brains, integrity, relentless passion and absolute conviction that the only way to practice law and live life is to speak truth to power, passionately and fervently. Just a superlative lawyer in every respect."

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Charles G. "Chuck" Bernstein, a longtime attorney and former Baltimore circuit judge, once joined Schatzow in representing an indigent defendant in a federal death penalty case.

"Mike excelled at everything he touched, from prosecution to criminal defense," Bernstein said. "Mike argued the Richmond case several times before the Court of Appeals. This was public service by a magnificently talented lawyer."

Said Dan Clements, a retired Maryland trial attorney, former federal prosecutor and Schatzow peer: "I don't know Mosby, but the fact that she hired Mike as her chief deputy gives me confidence in her judgment."

And confidence in the state's case against the Freddie Gray Six — now, by Williams' order, the Freddie Gray One-At-A-Time-Times-Six?

Says Clements: "I know that Mike would not put his own reputation on the line or risk the city state's attorney's office's reputation without being comfortable with the facts."

With six trials slated, Mosby faces a long, tough road. She'll need every bit of help from the very serious man with the curly white hair.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is also the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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