A former prosecutor has alleged Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby violated her constitutional rights by firing her for having backed Mosby’s political rival and predecessor, Gregg L. Bernstein.
Keri L. Borzilleri, then a career prosecutor, claims in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that she had a First Amendment, free-speech right to support Bernstein’s re-election without fear of retribution should Mosby win the Democratic primary election, which she did in June 2014.
Mosby’s subsequent firing of Borzilleri, four days after taking office Jan. 5., violated Section 1983 of the 1871 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits state officials from violating an individual’s constitutional rights, a lawyer for Borzilleri stated in the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
“At the time of Ms. Borzilleri’s termination, it was clearly established that the First Amendment protects career government employees from being fired during a political transition by a state official merely because of their support for the incoming state official’s political rivals,” wrote Stacey K. Grigsby, of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in Washington, D.C. “By terminating Ms. Borzilleri because she supported Mr. Bernstein’s campaign, State’s Attorney Mosby, acting on behalf of the state of Maryland, retaliated against Ms. Borzilleri for the exercise of her rights of political association and the expression of political allegiance in contravention of the First Amendment.”
Borzilleri worked as a city prosecutor for nearly a decade and tried “hundreds of cases,” including “some of Baltimore’s most violent and serious crimes,” according to the complaint. She is now assistant chief of strategic investigations at the Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office.
The complaint also alleges Borzilleri’s termination was one of several such retaliatory firings of prosecutors, all of which have diminished the quality of state’s attorney’s office
Mosby’s office, in a statement, denounced the allegations.
“We have not yet seen a copy of this alleged complaint but we refuse to be distracted by disgruntled employees or frivolous lawsuits,” the statement read. “Our record of pursuing violent offenders speaks for itself, specifically our 75 percent homicide conviction rate. The prosecutors in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office are hard-working, talented and committed public servants and we will continue to focus on taking violent offenders off the streets and pursuing justice for victims of crime.”
Borzilleri’s complaint states that she “did not hide her support for Mr. Bernstein during his unsuccessful re-election campaign,” hosting a meet-and-greet at her home that she publicized with emails touting his accomplishments. Borzilleri also placed a Bernstein campaign sign in front of her home and attended a Baltimore campaign event at which she spoke with prospective voters.
Though Mosby defeated Bernstein, Borzilleri said she had no fear for her job of nine years until Jan. 8, when an aide to Mosby allegedly asked her about her past support for Bernstein, which Borzilleri acknowledged, according to the complaint.
The next day Borzilleri said she was called into a conference room where she was told of her termination – effective immediately – and escorted by an armed officer while she collected her belongings and left the building.
The case is Keri L. Borzilleri v. Marilyn J. Mosby, et al., 1:15-cv-03760-JFM.