Madeleine O'Neill//February 21, 2023
//February 21, 2023
The former lead defense lawyer for ex-Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby will not face criminal penalties for his behavior during the high-profile case, a federal judge decided Tuesday.
The judge found that attorney A. Scott Bolden did not commit criminal contempt, though he admonished Bolden for his lack of civility in comments made about the Mosby case in September.
“You allowed yourself to be caught up in all the noise and the rhetoric that we see in the other branches of government,” U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett said. “You and I both know you’re better than that.”
Bennett said the violations of local court rules that Bolden committed did not rise to the level of criminal contempt.
“This is not a criminal matter,” the judge said as he closed out the case.
Bolden, of the D.C. law firm Reed Smith LLP, appeared emotional in court as he asked Bennett to spare him a criminal contempt finding.
“If I could take back every statement I’ve made in this case that brought me here, I would,” Bolden said. “Anger and frustration got the best of me.”
The side case against Bolden came after the judge handling Mosby’s trial, U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby, announced in court last month that Bolden had violated a number of local court rules and faced a possible criminal contempt finding.
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She pointed to a news conference in September where Bolden stood on the steps of the federal courthouse and said that state and federal employees and African American politicians were at risk of being targeted for prosecution if, like Mosby, they withdrew money from their retirement accounts under emergency pandemic rules.
(Griggsby had already found that Mosby’s prosecution was not politically or racially motivated.)
Bolden also said it was “bulls—” that prosecutors blamed the defense team for another postponement of Mosby’s trial in September, though the delay was caused by incomplete expert witness disclosures from the defense.
Bennett said Tuesday the use of a profanity on the courthouse steps seemed to be “unprecedented.”
“I don’t believe that in my experience in this court that I’ve ever seen a lawyer on the courthouse steps opine in such a fashion,” Bennett said.
Bolden also submitted a filing that was not signed by any local Maryland attorneys, in another violation of local rules. The filing included anonymized quotes from confidential juror questionnaires that Bolden included in an effort to show that the jury pool had been poisoned against Mosby ahead of her trial.
Griggsby sharply rebuked Bolden in court last month and said he could face criminal contempt for the local rule violations, including the inclusion of confidential juror responses in a public filing.
She asked Bolden to explain why he should not be held in contempt or, alternatively, why his case should not be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution.
Bolden and the rest of the defense team quickly withdrew from Mosby’s case, citing a conflict of interest that would make it impossible for them to continue representing Mosby as Bolden defends against a criminal contempt finding.
Mosby is now being defended by federal public defender James Wyda. The criminal contempt case against Bolden was reassigned from Griggsby to Bennett.
No government lawyers were present at Bolden’s hearing Tuesday. Bennett made clear during a status call last week that he did not feel the U.S. Attorney’s Office had a role to play in the criminal contempt proceedings.
Bolden and his lawyer, Arnold Weiner, walked a short distance away from the federal courthouse before addressing the media after the hearing.
“I’m just very thankful, grateful, and appreciate the judge’s full consideration and balance of the issues,” Bolden said. “Very humbling, but I just want to get back to practicing law and defending my clients.”
William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., a major figure in Baltimore’s legal community, also attended Tuesday’s hearing in a show of support for Bolden.
“Judges very often forget that they have the power to forgive, and that’s what Judge Bennett did today, he exercised the power to forgive,” Murphy said after the hearing. “And also, he ruled correctly that this was not a criminal contempt.”
Weiner argued in court and in a lengthy legal brief that violations of local court rules could not provide a basis for criminal contempt.
Bennett agreed, though he also told Bolden that the comments in the Mosby case were reckless. Lawyers have a particular obligation to follow rules of civility, the judge said, especially as other branches of government have become less collegial.
“The court system has stood above the fray,” Bennett said.
In an earlier court filing, Bolden’s lawyers included a personal statement in which Bolden apologized and asked to be spared the “dark stain” of criminal contempt.
“I have already received widespread criticism for the contentiousness that accompanied my defense of Ms. Mosby and for the antagonisms that were engendered by that defense,” Bolden said in the statement. “That criticism will not only have a profound effect upon my career going forward, but it will also cause other lawyers to exercise restraint in their own conduct under similar circumstances.”
The indictment against Mosby accuses her of lying about suffering a pandemic-related financial loss in order to make hardship withdrawals from her city retirement account. She put the $90,000 she withdrew from the account toward down payments on two Florida vacation properties, federal prosecutors say, and made several false statements when she applied for mortgages on the homes.
Mosby faces two counts each of perjury and mortgage fraud. She lost the job of Baltimore’s top prosecutor in January after placing third in the Democratic primary last year.r