Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ethics and Elections 2016

I am not a political commentator, but when criminal justice and politics intersect I do speak up.

In Baltimore we have Nick Mosby, husband of State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, running for mayor. Nick was the first politician in the family, successfully running for city council.  He then worked hard for his wife's election as top prosecutor.  Now he yearns to be top dog himself.

It seemed pretty obvious to me that this would create a major conflict of interest, with Nick responsible for the police department and Marilyn handling prosecutions.  The two agencies have to work together, and it's important that they do so, but they also must be independent of each other to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system.  How can we know that one Mosby is not covering for the other for the sake of their careers?

So when Nick Mosby showed up at my place of employment to give his stump speech, I asked one question:  how could he not see his being mayor as a huge conflict of interest when his wife was State's Attorney?  

"I'm glad you asked that question," he replied, and launched into a fully rehearsed response.  His main point: since the state's attorney budget is only a fraction of the city budget, and the city council has the power to take out what he puts in the budget, there's no problem.

What garbage.  The conflict isn't about budget, it's about policy, accountability, and transparency.  I refrained from any follow-up questions, as this was not my personal forum.  But one person got up and left, saying, "He didn't answer her question, so I'm done with him."  Others murmured similar sentiments.  And one senior citizen later said to me, "Thank you, Page, for asking that question.  We were all kind of wondering about that, but you asked it."

So the problem is pretty darn obvious, even to ordinary citizens.  They don't need a legal expert to point out the conflict of interest.  They see it and are concerned about it.  

But not Nick Mosby.  Ethical blindness - or arrogance - must run in the family.  

Oh, and even though he didn't fool his audience with his answer, he fooled them in another way.  After his presentation he asked people to come up for some photographs.  After some cajoling, a few came up, whereupon one of his staffers shoved signs in their hands and told them to hold them up for the camera.  They didn't have a chance to read the signs, but dutifully complied.  As of this writing one of those photographs, with a woman holding a sign that reads "Women for Mosby", is on his political Facebook page, an unauthorized (and fraudulently obtained) use of an image.  From our wannabe next mayor.

Speaking of ethics (or the lack thereof), there's another election going on in Baltimore, one that voters tend to ignore because they know nothing about the candidates.  They ought to make it their business to know - last election they put Judge Alfred Nance back on the bench and he let an accused murderer go because he's an arrogant nut.  Now the same gang that supports all the sitting judges no matter how awful or mediocre is back, asking voters to elect their latest round of politically appointed judges.

One of the standing judicial candidates - someone willing to stand up to the legal community and their political picks - is Todd Oppenheim, a city public defender.  In the course of his campaigning Oppenheim attended a community forum in Charles Village where he encountered one Dana Moore, who introduced the sitting judges and did most of their talking.

Moore was a long-time member of the city's Judicial Nominating Commission, which nominates judicial candidates to the governor.  For a time, she simultaneously served on the Maryland State Bar committee that makes recommendations to the Commission - in other words, she influenced the recommendations that she received.   A politically connected lawyer, Moore served on the city liquor board and was chair of the city ethics board.  Except oops, Moore failed to file her own ethics forms for three of the years she was on the ethics board.

When Oppenheim's turn to speak at the forum came up, Moore, acting as mouthpiece for the sitting judges, attacked him from the floor, calling him a "liar" for observations he made about the way judges are picked. Afterward she cornered him and told him that she was going to "haunt" him.

Nice stuff from someone whose professionalism and judgment we are supposed to trust, who didn't follow her own ethical responsibilities, and who influenced a committee in its recommendations to a commission on which she sat.

I think I'll take the candidate Moore isn't supporting, the one that turned his back on the Politics of Picking Judges.  Todd Oppenheim.   I prefer a person of principle over those who rely on political connections and mouthpieces like Moore any time.  


  1. Received this e-mail from Hal Riedl, who asked me to post:

    Joe Staczak, an East Baltimore political boss of yesteryear, was once pulled up on an obvious conflict of interest. His riposte: “Ain’t no conflict with my interest!”

    It’s impossible to know whether the Mosbys “get” the consequences of the mayor and the state’s attorney sleeping in the same bed, because in any case they will prevaricate. Marilyn was elected with the help of several blatant falsehoods. She will always say whatever she thinks works for her. She quite sincerely thinks that whatever works for her is for the public good. It’s part of the working narcissism of the American politician.

    Marilyn is a younger, prettier, stupider, and more dishonest version of Patricia Jessamy. I suppose Gregg Bernstein ought to take out a full-page in The Sun. Thanks to Marilyn he didn’t have to inherit the consequences of the demise of Freddie Gray.
    Fortunately there are too many voters in Baltimore City who do get the conflict between the Mosbys, so that there is no danger of Nick’s becoming the next mayor. Deo gratias, both he and Carl Stokes will be off the city council next year.

    Elizabeth Embry is the best person for the mayor’s job, but with David Warnock in the race, her chances are pretty desperate.
    As for the Sitting Judges, this year’s Al Nance is Wanda Heard. She is an unabashed fan of Judge Nance, and unless she is cashiered by the voters, she will take his place as Chief Judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City when he retires in 2018. Judge Heard has a reputation for erratic behavior on the bench, and she is known for not taking her own probations very seriously.
    Her immediate sympathy in criminal cases is for the wrongdoer, not the victim. She’s not naïve, she is ideological. She blames society for producing the criminal, not the criminal for producing the crime.

    Take Mustafa Eraibi, whom Judge Heard sentenced recently for nearly killing Sun editor Jonathan Fogg in a random street robbery. (Mr. Fogg wrote about his ordeal on the opinion page of The Sun on February 14, 2016. Most charitably, he did not name the judge.) Eraibi is a young Iraqi immigrant (his father worked with the U.S. military) who has never developed a conscience. He has a long juvenile record. Charged as an adult in a prior robbery, Judge Heard herself remanded the case to the tender loving care of the juvenile authorities. Eraibi nearly ended Mr. Fogg’s life with a large rock or brick, even after Mr. Fogg had just handed over his possessions. The State wanted 30 years, for attempted first-degree murder. Judge Heard felt that the juvenile folks hadn’t done right by Mr. Eraibi. So she suspended all but 12 years. He might be out in 6-8 years. He will then go to Judge Heard’s five-year probation. She’ll see him again—unless she’s no longer on the bench.

    Todd Oppenheim is a public defender. I don’t expect to agree with him very often. But I admire his energy, enthusiasm, and courage in taking on the City’s judicial establishment. The best way to help him is to vote for him only, and skip all the other judicial candidates on the ballot. To those who honor the so-called Sitting Judge Principle—Vote for One Vote for All—I suggest omitting Judge Heard and substituting Mr. Oppenheim. -- Hal Riedl

  2. Ms. Croyder,

    Speaking of politics and law enforcement, I am sure you have heard that the prosecutors now want another accused police officer to testify in the Freddy Gray prosecutions. I wonder: Is it common for Baltimore's State's Attorney to use the tactic of "cross-immunization" for multiple individual defendants still facing trial when they stand accused of murder or assault or large-scale drug dealing? If not, how are these proceedings so worthy of prosecutorial innovation when those accused of mayhem escape the prosecutor's inventiveness?

    1. I believe you know the answers in asking these questions. The prosecution is pushing the envelope of the law and ethics to justify what have been revealed to be political trials. These tactics are never seen for murder or drug-dealing cases.