For months, allegations that at least one officer of the court lied under oath over a petty matter connected to a wrongful termination lawsuit have been discussed publicly in the newspaper, on social media and in legal claims.
And for months, not a single investigative body has settled the issue, which was in the news again this week. By our count at least three Maryland agencies — the Attorney Grievance Commission, the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office — have reasonable jurisdiction over such concerns.
Their silence on the matter does a disservice both to the lawyers involved — who include Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Maryland Assistant Attorney General Michelle Wilson and Administrative Law Judge Syeetah Hampton-El — and to the city’s courts.
For while the topic of the women’s testimony, given earlier this year, was trivial — whether Ms. Mosby made a throat-slitting gesture as a candidate for office in 2014 toward Ms. Hampton-El for supporting a political rival — the contradictions in their accounts were not. They suggest criminal perjury by a court official, which threatens the credibility of our justice system.
None of these women can properly carry out their duties under a cloud of suspicion regarding their integrity. Each has a right to have her name definitively cleared if she has been truthful, and the citizens of this state have a right to hold her accountable if she has not.
The circumstances that got us here are convoluted.
In 2014, shortly before she was elected, Ms. Mosby and dozens of others attended a dinner celebrating the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys of Maryland. Ms. Hampton-El was an assistant state’s attorney at the time and seated at a table purchased by Gregg Bernstein, the incumbent Baltimore state’s attorney and Ms. Mosby’s competitor for office.
Ms. Hampton-El, who is now an administrative law judge, testified in March of this year that Ms. Mosby made a throat-slitting gesture in her direction at the event. Ms. Mosby countered on the witness stand that the cutthroat claim was “absurd.”
Both statements were made during a civil trial in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by another prosecutor, named Keri Borzilleri, whom Ms. Mosby had fired after taking office.
After Ms. Mosby testified, Ms. Wilson, who was not part of the trial, weighed in on Facebook. She also had attended the dinner in 2014, when she was still an assistant state’s attorney.
“She lied on the witness stand under oath,” Ms. Wilson wrote on the social media site. "I was facing the dais when [Ms. Mosby] made the throat slitting gesture but the reaction at my table was immediate. Those facing her immediately commented and I was right across from Syeetah and could [see] her face and reaction. At the end of the event I was standing with another ASA, who texted Mosby about her conduct and Mosby responded something to the effect of ‘that bitch is gone’ acknowledging what she had done at dinner.”
Ms. Wilson later signed a sworn affidavit reaffirming her account, after Ms. Borzilleri lost the lawsuit.
A month later, Ms. Wilson was selected to oversee the Baltimore Police Department’s public integrity bureau, which was to work closely with Ms. Mosby’s office. But just days after a public announcement was made about the hiring, which would have made Ms. Wilson the first female African American deputy commissioner, a police spokesman reversed course without explanation and said Ms. Wilson would not be joining the department after all.
That brings us to this week, when we learned that Ms. Wilson had negotiated a $75,000 settlement with the city for loss of the job, which she says was the result of a “tantrum” thrown by Ms. Mosby. The details were contained in a legal document obtained by Sun reporter Kevin Rector through a public information act request.
“In taking the obvious risk of stating under oath that a powerful person lied in court, Ms. Wilson demonstrated the integrity that would have served her well as Deputy Commissioner for Public Integrity,” a lawyer wrote on her behalf. “Ms. Wilson was denied employment solely because she exercised her First Amendment right to testify truthfully under oath about a corrupt public official.”
Ms. Mosby’s office, in turn, said Ms. Wilson was the one lying and whose credibility is in question.
What are we to make of this?
Three officers of the court — Ms. Hampton-El and Ms. Wilson on one side and Ms. Mosby on the other — have sworn an oath to two clashing stories. Each of the women is paid by our tax dollars.
We don’t much care whether Ms. Mosby made the juvenile gesture. The issue is whether she, or the others, lied about it under oath. Making false claims is unacceptable behavior for any lawyer, but there are added concerns for Baltimore’s top prosecutor: Ms. Mosby sets the strategy for punishing crime in the city, and residents shouldn’t have to wonder whether her veracity will jeopardize their safety.
We therefore call on the agencies with jurisdiction to take action.
The Attorney Grievance Commission investigates allegations of misconduct against Maryland attorneys, and may initiate an inquiry on its own. Individuals also may file a complaint, which all of the women involved should have done by now. But if they haven’t, that doesn’t absolve the commission of its duty to help ensure integrity in our justice system.
Likewise, the State Prosecutor’s Office also should look into the matter. Under Maryland code, it too has the authority to launch an inquiry on its “own initiative” into potential violations of state perjury laws that constitute “criminal malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office committed by an officer or employee of the state.” Maryland Code also allows individuals under investigation by the State Prosecutor’s Office to release that information publicly, along with the results — including exoneration.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office also could investigate, though we expect it would claim a conflict, given that it represents Ms. Mosby in legal matters filed against her and employs Ms. Wilson. It certainly has an interest in the outcome, however.
If no agency moves to act on its own, we respectfully ask Gov. Larry Hogan or members of the General Assembly to request an inquiry. The issue is simply too important to ignore. There were multiple people at the event; it shouldn’t be difficult to clear the air. For now, the only certainty is that the public is being misled by someone.