In my story about the shakeup in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, there was a word I didn’t use but probably was implied by the people I quoted: politics. As in, many of the firings overseen by Marilyn J. Mosby are related to last year’s election.
“I think the feeling is anybody who was supportive of Bernstein is on the chopping block,” Warren Brown told me, referring to Gregg L. Bernstein, Mosby’s predecessor.
Cristie Cole, a former operations research analyst in the office, claims she was fired because of her support of Bernstein. In an open letter to her former colleagues, Cole said she backed Bernstein at the same polling station where Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby, Marilyn Mosby’s husband, was working.
“Mr. Mosby and I shared our differences about the candidates that day, but I did not think this would come back to haunt me,” she wrote.
Cole claimed Nick Mosby sat in on personnel decisions. The councilman did not respond to my requests for comment but he told City Paper’s Edward Ericson Jr. the allegation was “categorically incorrect.”
“I was never there during any firing of any of the employees,” Mosby told Ericson. “Nor was Marilyn, as far as I know. It’s just rumors that are flying around.”
I also asked Tammy Brown, chief of external affairs for the state’s attorney’s office, whether the firings were politically motivated but did not hear back from her. Brown has previously said the office cannot comment on personnel issues.
As Ericson noted, Marilyn Mosby is within her rights as incoming state’s attorney to fire employees without cause.* But the criminal defense attorneys I talked to Wednesday were concerned the firings were costing the office some of its best people: two sources, both lawyers, specifically named as an example Keri Borzilleri, who was listed in the office directory Wednesday but was gone Thursday.
For what it’s worth, I searched our archives and did not find any similar firings when Bernstein took office in 2011, although he did replace all of Patricia C. Jessamy’s executive office, including her deputies. (If you know of Bernstein firing people who supported Jessamy, please let me know in the comments below.)
Gary Bernstein (no relation to Gregg) said one of the first lessons he learned while working in the city state’s attorney’s office as a law student in the mid-1970s is to “support the person you work for” no matter who wins the election.
Bernstein added a prosecutors’ work should not be affected by who is in charge.
“It’s a case. It’s a file. It really doesn’t matter who the state’s attorney is,” he said. “You really shouldn’t care. You really shouldn’t know.”
*Whether a firing for political reasons is legal is a whole other issue, however. The 4th Circuit ruled in September 2013 that “Liking” a candidate on Facebook is considered protected speech. The appellate court reinstated a lawsuit brought by former employees of a sheriff’s office who claimed they lost their job by supporting their boss’s opponent on social media. Generally speaking, only people who make policy can be fired for political reasons.