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New term gives Mosby chance to silence critics, roll out progressive policies

‘She walked on the edge, but I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt,’ one criminal defense lawyer says of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, seen at a press conference earlier this month, pursuing charges against six police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. But another lawyer says Officer Edward Nero’s acquittal shows Mosby ‘is a prosecutor who is bent on promoting herself rather than the city.’ (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Marilyn J. Mosby (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Marilyn J. Mosby gained international prominence just months after becoming Baltimore state’s attorney when she stood before the War Memorial and announced she was charging six police officers for their alleged role in the death of Freddie Gray.

The moment defined her first term in office, which has been marked by criticism of her ability to convict violent criminals and hold police officers accountable for misconduct. But she remains popular among city residents who live in neighborhoods with a strong mistrust of city law enforcers due to years of discriminatory and unconstitutional policing.

Mosby’s supporters propelled her to a re-election victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday over two challengers, making the general election a formality because there was no Republican challenger.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting as of Wednesday afternoon, Mosby had 49 percent of the votes, followed by Ivan J. Bates at 28 percent and Thiru Vignarajah 23 percent.

“I think she won because she has a base of support that she can count on that is very fervent and very dedicated to her,” said Warren Brown, a Baltimore criminal defense lawyer who supported Mosby in the primary despite opposing her challenge to Gregg Bernstein four years ago.

Mosby’s base does not expect her to single-handedly solve Baltimore’s crime problems, added Brown, a solo practitioner.

“I think they’re looking for her to do the best she can and whatever that is, they’re OK with it,” he said. “I think they recognize she’s not capable, no one in that position is capable, of reducing the level of violent crime in this city.”

Bates, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, campaigned on improving community trust in the office and touted his years of experience in criminal law. Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general, pledged to cut murders in half in three years and reduce violent crime overall.

Law professor Larry Gibson said prosecutor elections are difficult because they are often blamed for the crime rate despite only being a piece of the criminal justice system.

“It’s always hard to get re-elected as a prosecutor because the commission of crime is something over which the prosecutor has almost no control but they’re sort of criticized when crime goes up,” said Gibson, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Mosby spent time touting her crime prevention activities, including youth programs, which may have distinguished her from her predecessors and opponents, according to Gibson.

“She really spends a fair amount of time, a lot of time, trying to reach young people before they commit a crime,” he said.

But David Jaros, a criminal law professor at the University of Baltimore, said the election was a “referendum” on the Freddie Gray prosecutions.

“She certainly has rightfully taken credit for challenging the police and police misconduct,” he said.

Brown said he supported Mosby because he did not see how Bates or Vignarajah would materially change the office and he would rather see an incumbent prosecutor stay in charge.

“She’s been on the job for three and a half years,” he said. “She’s got her sea legs under her.”

Brown would like to see Mosby bringing together stakeholders to try to solve the issues underlying Baltimore’s crime.

“What I would like to see is for her to make it very clear as publicly as possible that unless we rally together to address the pockets of decay in this city that give rise to the violence, we’re going to continue to have it,” he said.

Progressive values

Mosby has held herself out as a progressive and, alongside Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, has been billed as a new class of reform-minded prosecutors – even though she has not pushed for many progressive ideals, according to Jaros.

“In many ways I think she’s at a crossroads as to whether she’s going to really take up the mantle of a progressive reformer,” Jaros said. “It’s going to require that her office adopt much more significantly progressive policies in terms of mandatory minimums and bail reform and a variety of other areas that other offices across the country have taken in order to truly reform the criminal justice system.”

With the election behind her, he continued, Mosby can focus on deciding what kind of office she wants.

“She’s been elected as a progressive criminal justice reformer,” he said. “Now we have to see the reforms.”

Natalie Finegar, a former public defender in the city, said Mosby has mentioned Krasner, whose policies include not charging for possession of marijuana, not seeking cash bail for certain offenses and diverting cases to non-incarceration alternatives.

“She’s talking about the DA in Philadelphia who is extremely progressive as someone she’s interested in but we haven’t seen anything remotely close to what that district attorney is doing in Baltimore,” said Finegar, now a solo practitioner. “She ran on that platform as being progressive so it will be interesting to see what kind of things she builds into her office.”

Finegar praised Mosby’s community involvement but noted that only gives Mosby an idea of the impact of criminal justice policies and does not necessarily affect how her office treats cases.

“That’s just one measurement of feedback, that’s not progressive prosecution,” she said. “The ball’s in her court. She has the next four years to do it.”

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