The criminal charges against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby caught the city off guard, in spite of the intense scrutiny that has surrounded the case for much of the year since the investigation became public.
Mosby, who has cultivated a national reputation as well as faced local critics, now must overcome a series of challenges to preserve her political and legal career, including a primary election just months away and the daunting task of taking on federal prosecutors.
Baltimore’s top prosecutor was charged Thursday with perjury related to a COVID financial hardship withdrawal from her retirement savings and making false statements during the purchase of two homes in Florida. The indictment alleges Mosby withdrew money without penalty from her city retirement account in May 2020, stating that she had experienced a financial setback due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, her salary increased. Mosby makes about $248,000 a year and runs an office with a budget of $50.4 million from local, state and federal sources.
The indictment also states that Mosby put the money she received toward a down payment on a rental property in Florida. During that process, prosecutors allege, she lied by saying she didn’t have a federal tax lien and falsely said the property was a second home instead of a rental — thereby lowering the interest rate.
In an appearance Friday afternoon, Mosby said she planned to fight the charges that she called politically and racially motivated. Thursday evening, her attorney, A. Scott Bolden, decried the charges as well, calling them false and “rooted in personal, political and racial animus.”
While the indictment brought against Mosby is jarring, the charges were not what many expected. When the investigation into Mosby and her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby, was revealed in March, it appeared to be focused on the Democratic couple’s charitable donations.
Federal prosecutors subpoenaed local churches for records of donations by the couple, while also seeking tax returns, bank and credit card statements, loan documents and canceled checks. Marilyn Mosby’s campaign treasurer was subpoenaed and records were requested related to the couple’s private travel and businesses.
The indictment presented Thursday, which does not name the council president, takes a different tack. But it still presents challenges to Mosby’s political future, as it arises just ahead of the Feb. 22 deadline for her to file for her a reelection bid.
Mosby is unlikely to stand trial anytime soon, particularly before the June 28 primary. In highly Democratic Baltimore, the primary represents the main contest in the election. Two Democrats have announced their intention to run against her: defense attorneys Ivan Bates and Roya Hanna. No Republicans have entered the field.
Both Bates — who tweeted “everybody deserves their day in court” — and Hanna will no doubt seek to undermine the two-term state’s attorney with news of the indictment.
But Mosby also has fought vehemently, thus far, making an early play to win in the court of public opinion. Bolden, her attorney, accused the U.S. attorney’s office last summer of carrying out an overly broad, politically motivated investigation.
“The feds have no legal basis to indict my client,” Bolden said. “This investigation appears to be essentially a civil audit of my client’s tax returns, put into a grand jury by individuals who have a personal, political, and possibly a racial animus against Mrs. Mosby, who is one of a few leading Black female progressive prosecutors in this country.”
On Thursday night, he raised similar concerns, while noting that the indictment landed “five months from her election.”
Prominent allies have rallied behind Mosby. Several nationally renowned civil rights attorneys and pastors gathered in Baltimore ahead of a visit this fall by Democratic President Joe Biden to call for an end to the investigation. Speaking to reporters in a West Baltimore church, the group argued Mosby and other leading Black female prosecutors in America have been ridiculed, mocked, sued and investigated because of their work to bring equity to the criminal justice system.
Last summer, Mosby and her husband launched a legal defense fund. Willie Flowers, president of the Maryland state conference of the NAACP, said the civil rights organization would donate to the fund.
Should Mosby prevail in winning a third, four-year term, she could face other challenges beyond the charges she faces, albeit further down the road.
The state attorney general’s office could not provide an answer Thursday night about whether and how a state’s attorney could be removed from office. A spokeswoman declined to comment on Mosby’s charges.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Two sections of the Maryland Constitution lay out possible paths.
An elected official convicted of a felony is suspended from office without pay or benefits and someone is appointed to temporarily fill the position. Once a conviction is final, such as following a judicial review, the official is removed from office.
Another section says a state’s attorney may be removed from office for “incompetency, willful neglect of duty, or misdemeanor in office.” But he or she must be convicted on those grounds in the courts or voted out by two-thirds of the state Senate. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh would have to call the senators to vote.
It was unclear whether either provision ever had been used to remove a state’s attorney.
Federal criminal cases against elected officials typically end in a conviction — such as former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — or a plea deal — like former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. But sometimes prosecutors whiff — as with the dismissed charges against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey — or a conviction is overturned.
In addition, the bar counsel of the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission has the authority to petition a circuit court for an injunction of an attorney’s license to practice law. Such an injunction requires information that the attorney is engaging in professional misconduct and poses an immediate threat to cause “substantial harm to the administration of justice.”
This all means that without a conviction, unless voters choose another candidate, Mosby chooses to step aside, or the bar counsel decides to act, she likely will continue to serve in office.