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Sun Investigates

Thiru Vignarajah harassed and abused staff at attorney general’s, Baltimore state’s attorney offices, former subordinates say

A decade ago, Katie Dorian went to work as an unpaid intern for Thiru Vignarajah at the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office because she believed he would help guide her career while showing her the intricacies of sophisticated prosecution.

Then a second-year law student, Dorian remembers a law school adviser telling her Vignarajah was a rising star.

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“If you want to be in prosecution, this is the way you make your career,” Dorian remembered the adviser saying. “You work for him and stick with him.”

Instead, according to Dorian, Vignarajah abused his position of authority, subjecting an impressionable young woman to mental abuse and manipulation, threatening to ruin her career if she ever spoke out and even threatening her physically.

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She’s speaking out now though because Vignarajah’s running in a tight three-way race in the Democratic primary to be Baltimore’s top prosecutor, and Dorian is concerned about what that could mean for future employees.

“He is not a person who should be in any position of power and let alone that much power with that much trust,” said Dorian, 35, who now heads the organized crime unit at the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. “The thing that I really want to be clear is that for anyone, especially any young women thinking about working for him: Don’t.”

While Vignarajah ran unsuccessfully for state’s attorney in 2018 and mayor in 2020, he raised over $600,000 in the most recent cycle, more than the other two candidates combined. And, incumbent State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby faces a federal criminal trial in September, two months after the primary, on charges of perjury and making false statements.

Vignarajah is known for his charisma, intelligence and his plans for many of Baltimore’s problems. As a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, U.S. Supreme Court clerk and deputy attorney general, he has a sterling resume.

But in interviews with The Baltimore Sun, 15 former subordinates and colleagues at the city prosecutor’s office and the state attorney general’s office described a man who punished both men and women for perceived disloyalty and humiliated them in front of colleagues.

A.J. Clayborne, a Harvard law student who interned for Vignarajah in the summer of 2015, said he was once harshly criticized in front of other interns and staff members for what Vignarajah called a failure to take adequate meeting notes. Clayborne was stunned.

“I see this look in [Vignarajah’s] eye and I realized he was enjoying it,” said Clayborne, who now works as a labor organizer.

Even seasoned attorneys said they were subject to Vignarajah’s wrath, with employees describing how his usually collected demeanor could change to menacing and terrifying in a snap.

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“It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” said Carrie Williams, a senior official in the attorney general’s office who worked under Vignarajah.

Vignarajah and his campaign declined to comment on the record when asked about the specific allegations raised in this article.

Vignarajah’s political director Anthony McCarthy told The Sun in a statement that the allegations were a “coordinated political effort,” attributing it in an unsubstantiated claim to Ivan Bates, who’s also running in the Democratic primary for Baltimore state’s attorney.

“We are focused on the fact people are dying every day,” said McCarthy, referencing Baltimore’s homicide rate. “We will not be distracted. We will stay focused on solutions to our city’s greatest challenges. When they go low, we go high.”

Many of those interviewed by The Sun spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, though some weren’t authorized to speak because of their jobs.

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Nine of them, including Williams, said Vignarajah was particularly abusive toward Dorian. Dorian and others interviewed said they saw him yell and swear at her, while also observing that he isolated her from co-workers.

Dorian spent nearly 4 1/2 years working under Vignarajah at the Baltimore prosecutor’s and attorney general’s offices. There is no public record that top officials at the public agencies noticed or addressed Vignarajah’s poor treatment of colleagues, but every former subordinate interviewed said they feared he would harm their careers if they reported how he treated them.

Vignarajah was asked to resign as deputy attorney general in 2016, following an internal investigation into his conduct toward subordinates, specifically women, according to four people who say Vignarajah told them why he left the agency.

“While we cannot comment on personnel matters, Katie is a respected leader in our office and has our full support,” said Raquel Coombs, the spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

Dorian said she didn’t lodge a formal complaint because she worried she would be the only person who would suffer consequences.

“I didn’t want to risk people taking this out of my control and saying, ‘You have to leave this job,’” she said. “I loved this job. I firmly believed, and still believe, you should not have to leave a job because of the supervisor being a monster.”

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In text messages Dorian shared with The Sun, Vignarajah used abusive language, calling her a “bitch” and a “wretched piece of s---” and told her to “go to hell” when he felt she was either being disloyal or not working hard enough.

Vignarajah, at a candidates forum last week, dismissed the complaints about his treatment of subordinates as political attacks.

“This is an issue that has come up four years ago, two years ago. ... It’s political season and these kinds of things do come up,” he said. “I’m not perfect. I have grown as a manager, as a person, as a leader.”

Asked whether he sent the texts, Vignarajah said: “I’m not going to get drawn into this.”

The details around Vignarajah’s departure from the attorney general’s office, as well as the texts sent to Dorian, were first reported by independent journalist Justine Barron. Dorian has acknowledged on Twitter that she shared some of her story anonymously with The Sun for a 2020 article about Vignarajah.

Dorian said Vignarajah’s behavior sometimes frightened her. The following instances are based on interviews with Dorian and six other people who either work with, or are friends with, Dorian. They all said these following versions of events are consistent with her retelling of them afterward.

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When she was his law clerk in the state’s attorney’s office in 2013, Vignarajah was driving them to a meeting when he became upset about another attorney, and blamed her for that attorney’s shortcoming, Dorian said.

As he became more upset, he started driving faster, yelling at her and not paying attention to the road. Dorian started to dial 911, but Vignarajah grabbed her phone away, she said. Vignarajah started speeding toward a wall in the distance, and, according to Dorian’s recollection, said: “What? Are you afraid I’m going to crash into that wall and kill us both?”

He then stopped the car and Dorian reached for the door, at which point he grabbed her left arm, she said.

“I turned around and looked at him and he’s still holding my phone, and he looks like he’s now aware of what he just did,” Dorian said.

She used the moment to leave the car, saying she hid in an alley until Vignarajah drove away and then walked back to their downtown office. Vignarajah later apologized, something Dorian said he regularly did.

In 2014, after Democratic State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby won election, Dorian, now an attorney, said she was called into Vignarajah’s office. She said she and her co-workers widely expected Vignarajah would leave the job in the new year, and that gave her courage to stand up to him.

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Vignarajah yelled at Dorian, and she responded she could report him to the administration. In response, Dorian said Vignarajah, sitting with his feet up on his desk, threatened her.

Dorian said Vignarajah smiled, looked at her and said: “I will destroy you. I will destroy your career.”

In January 2015, Vignarajah left to become Maryland deputy attorney general under Frosh, a Democrat.

Shortly thereafter, Dorian received an offer from Elizabeth Embry, the criminal division chief for the attorney general’s office, to run the newly formed organized crime unit. Embry declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement to The Sun: “I recruited Katie to run this newly created unit because of her specific expertise in wiretap and organized crime investigations, and because I knew her to be an incredibly hardworking and brilliant attorney.”

It would be a major promotion for Dorian, then 27, but would mean working again in the same agency as Vignarajah. Dorian declined, but accepted after Embry asked her again. Dorian said Embry told her she would not directly report to Vignarajah, though he would be in her chain of command.

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The month she started, in June 2015, Vignarajah ordered Dorian and a senior-level official to attend a conference in Ocean City with him. Before the drive home, Vignarajah yelled at them for not wanting to stay later for a bonfire networking event, according to Dorian and the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.

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The next morning, as Dorian sat in the official’s office detailing some of Vignarajah’s past abuse, he burst in, they both said. He demanded to speak with Dorian alone, but the other official refused. He asked Dorian: “What did you tell her?” Dorian did not answer and the official told Vignarajah to leave and to stay away from Dorian.

Still, he continued to call and text her, Dorian said. Sometimes, she said, he would wait after work for her in the office garage.

In December 2015, conservative organization Project Veritas posted videos of Vignarajah in a hotel room with an unidentified woman who was asking him to divulge secret information about the attorney general’s office. Frosh publicly defended Vignarajah, but he was stripped of his supervisory duties, according to those who say Vignarajah told them himself about the decision.

The Project Veritas incident spurred people in the office, including Williams, a criminal appellate lawyer, to share their experiences with agency officials, spurring the investigation into his conduct.

Dorian said she last spoke to Vignarajah on the phone in the summer of 2017 when he called her to let her know he planned to run for state’s attorney.

In that call, she said, he had a question for her: “Do I need to be worried about you?”



Have a news tip? Contact reporter Lee O. Sanderlin at lsanderlin@baltsun.com.




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