Time for AG to act before it is too late to save the Baltimore City SAO.

Under Article V, Section 7 of the Maryland Constitution the State’s Attorney for a county or Baltimore City may be removed for incompetence or willful neglect of duty by a vote of two-thirds of the Maryland Senate upon the recommendation of the Attorney General. The power of the Attorney General to inquire into the performance of duties by a State’s Attorney is necessarily implied by the section.  Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh should open an inquiry into the manner in which Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is running her office before it is too late to repair any damage that is being done.

In the latest upheaval within the office both the chief administrator and the chief spokesperson for Mosby resigned this week with the chief spokesperson, Rochelle Ritchie, taking a parting shot at Mosby’s leadership of the office. These two resignations followed the resignation of last month of another administrator, Mosby’s chief of external affairs, who had been Ritchie’s supervisor.

The warning signs of mismanagement have been there from the first month that Marilyn Mosby took office as the State’s Attorney for the City of Baltimore, beginning with the large-scale and disruptive exodus of experienced prosecutors who carry out the day-to-day responsibilities of the office.  In some cases vacant prosecutor positions were filled with administrators – who now have joined in the exodus.

The problem of gaffes by prosecutors compromising the prosecution of criminal defendants in the city did not start with Mosby but she has done little or nothing to fix it, and it has continued on her watch; indeed, the dearth of experienced prosecutors in her office makes the problem much harder to address.  Last month yet another defendant was acquitted of murder because of what appears to be the inadequate preparation of a case for trial by police and prosecutors.

I don’t need to mention the Freddy Gray debacle, as well-documented as that was. I made my personal views known in an op ed that appeared in The Baltimore Sun.  Even a good chief prosecutor would have difficulty recovering from a performance as dismal and questionable as that, and in my opinion Mosby is not a good chief prosecutor.

One action in particular taken by Mosby in the aftermath of the Freddy Gray cases caught my attention and the attention of other experienced prosecutors.  Mosby and her two chief deputies were under fire in the national media, and a complaint had been filed against them with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission.  At a time when Mosby need to make sure that the routine operations of her office were in good hands she hired a third deputy, Valda Ricks, to be her Chief of Operations.

Ricks was a career public defender without any experience as a prosecutor.  It is no insult to Ricks’ general competence as a lawyer to state that I and others were flabbergasted that Mosby would appoint a lawyer without any prosecutorial experience to oversee an office with over 200 prosecutors.  The functions of a public defender and a State’s Attorney have little in common other than they both involve the practice of criminal law.  It was an odd appointment that did not seem to strengthen the office where it needed the most, which is in the area of experienced oversight of prosecutions.

In an article published in November the Wall Street Journal reported that during Mosby’s tenure prosecutors have dropped or dismissed the charges in 43% of the felony cases handled by her office.  That is a very high number, and in my own post I expressed frustration at Mosby’s unwillingness or inability to explain why so many cases are being washed out.  At this point my hypothesis is that she and her staff are so fearful of additional embarrassing acquittals and a further nosedive in their conviction rate that only the cases that they deem most winnable are allowed to go forward.

On her way out the door this week Rochelle Ritchie stated that in the future she looked forward to working under “respectable and seasoned leadership,” an obvious jab at Mosby. Mosby’s peevishly retweeted a horoscope in response:  “An Aquarius usually has no patience for people with tiny minds.” Mosby later deleted the tweet, but that did nothing to diminish the perception that there is a troubling lack of maturity in certain of her decisions.

In all of my years in government I can count on one hand the times I have heard an employee hopeful of landing another job somewhere say something like Ritchie did upon resigning from a job.  In and of itself it means little, but it is one more piece of evidence suggesting that something destructive is going on inside Mosby’s office.

As I did with my op ed suggesting that the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission investigate Mosby for the manner in which she handled the Gray prosecutions I want to emphasize that I am offering no conclusions other than to say that sometimes where there is smoke there is indeed fire, and an inquiry needs to take place.  Let the chips fall where they may after a fair and impartial inquiry.

Article V, Section 7 is in the Maryland Constitution for a reason, and it imposes a duty on the Attorney General to act if he has reason to believe that Mosby is not competently managing her office. The issue is certainly worthy of the Attorney General’s time because Baltimore can ill afford a lack of competence in any component of the criminal justice system.

January 5, 2017

 

 

 

 

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