Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby promised she had met her ethical obligations when in July she asked for an investigation into her financial and travel disclosures — a request highly unusual for an elected official. She sought to stop questions and criticism into several trips she had made abroad, and about travel and hospitality companies she had started while in office — and not initially publicly disclosed as required by law.
And while a report released this week by Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming didn’t find anything nefarious enough to put an official out of office, it raised concerns about record keeping and whether Ms. Mosby’s national endeavors are overshadowing her prosecutorial duties at home in Baltimore. One telling finding: Ms. Mosby disclosed 85 work days she missed because of travel on her state ethics forms, and Ms. Cumming found she was gone an additional 59 days. Ms. Mosby wasn’t as transparent as she claimed.
The investigation did not uncover any secret “under the table gifts”; no “double dipping”; and no financial improprieties, as Ms. Mosby’s attorney pointed out in a statement. It also didn’t reveal that any taxpayer money was mishandled and did reveal that most of the travel was paid for by nonprofit criminal justice organizations, such as the Vera Institute of Justice, and Fair and Just Prosecution. Ms. Mosby turned over a haul of corresponding evidence to defend herself, including travel receipts, expense reports, calendars, more than 4,000 emails, tax returns and a year’s worth of bank and credit card statements to prove that point. We are certainly glad to know the investigation didn’t find anything corrupt, because goodness knows Baltimore can’t handle another scandal.
That does not excuse, however, the fact that Ms. Mosby didn’t get Board of Estimates approval as required by administrative procedures for certain trips. Travel costing more than $800, or that lasts more than five workdays, requires a go-ahead from the city spending panel, even if taxpayer money is not used, Ms. Cummings said in her report. Fifteen of Ms. Mosby’s trips fell into that category. Perhaps Ms. Mosby didn’t know about the rule, given that she didn’t get permission for any of the trips, but disclosed all of them on state ethics forms. (Do other public officials ask permission for such trips, or is an obscure rule?). That still doesn’t give her a pass. We hold public officials to a high standard and expect them to follow all laws and procedures, especially when their jobs involve upholding the law. How much leeway do her prosecutors give to defendants who argue they didn’t understand what they did was wrong?
Ms. Mosby has become an in-demand speaker since charging Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray more than five years ago, traveling to places like Nairobi, Kenya, and Berlin, Germany, for speaking engagements and conferences. She was away from Baltimore 144 workdays in 2018 and 2019, Ms. Cumming found. We know that public officials travel. For any profession, conferences are a way to keep abreast of new strategies and findings in the field. Sometimes these events are held at fancy resorts, like the one Ms. Mosby attended at Salamander Resort & Spa in Virginia. We don’t fault location of the event or that her security detail drove her to the location. That is their job. However, we do ding her for not initially disclosing the trip in state ethics forms.
In general, we urge Ms. Mosby to think about the impression it can give when a public official is away so much. Sure, her trips seem to meet ethical standards, but legality is not all that matters. Perception is concerning as well. Perhaps people might see that her national ambitions are more important than what voters chose her to do, especially when Baltimore has faced record crime rates in recent years. Residents need to have confidence their state’s attorney’s main focus is prosecuting criminals so they don’t end up back on the streets. We ask her to practice more balance.
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Not doing so threatens Ms. Mosby’s own efforts at changing the nature of the prosecutor’s office. Ms. Mosby is one of a group of progressive states attorneys and prosecutors across the country trying to change their role to address racial inequities in the justice system. Most recently, she hired an attorney to focus solely on releasing elderly prisoners, many people of color who committed crimes at very young ages.
Unfortunately, this work can get lost by less important issues like travel, which also leads us to another issue: her travel company. Even though there is nothing illegal about Ms. Mosby starting the companies, Mahogany Elite Consulting and Mahogany Elite Travel, was it really worth the distraction it has caused? Ms. Mosby needs to redirect the focus back to the prosecutors office to which she was elected and its role in making Baltimore’s neighborhoods safe again.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.