Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty will receive a written reprimand and return to work after she was placed on leave late last year during an investigation into her performance.
Moriarty appeared before the Minnesota Board of Public Defense on Wednesday, months after she was placed on leave in late December.
They met privately before the board issued its decision publicly via teleconference in light of the coronavirus.
“Ms. Moriarty has failed to follow basic tenets of the chief public defender memorandum of understanding, general office policies and general behavioral expectations for all state chief defenders,” said Board Vice Chairwoman Molly Jannetta.
Jannetta said that some of the reasons for the reprimand include: Moriarty told a Hennepin County committee that for financial reasons the county should take the public defender’s office back from state purview, “a number” of criminal justice partners in Hennepin County reported that Moriarty has a “fractured relationship” with them and is “noncollaborative,” and because she does not delineate her personal social media from her official work role.
Moriarty’s paid administrative leave will end Monday, March 30. She will be allowed to return to work that day.
“The past three months have been some of the most difficult of my life,” Moriarty said in a statement issued through her attorney.
“But I am gratified to be returning to the job I love, advocating on behalf of our clients, our staff, and our community,” she continued. “Racial justice will continue to be a priority of mine.
“This is particularly true during the COVID-19 crisis, where it is critical to speak out on behalf of marginalized communities,” she added.
Moriarty has received an outpouring of support from community activists and some politicians.
“Many in the community will be glad to know Mary is back,” said Michael Friedman, executive director of the Legal Rights Center, who attended the teleconference.
“This undermines and interferes with the work of the office and the work of the state board as a whole,” said Jannetta, who did not cite specific examples.
Moriarty’s use of her personal social media account and the official account for her office have caused “confusion and disruption to the work of the agency,” Jannetta said.
Jannetta noted that the issues she briefly outlined did not include all of the information the board considered in issuing the reprimand, which was unanimously approved.
Although Jannetta did not touch on it, a tense and public exchange between Moriarty and Washington County Attorney Pete Orput occurred two months before she was placed on leave.
Moriarty said in late December she was being placed on leave for making an accusation of racism, among the reasons Jannetta outlined.
Moriarty called out Orput for using the word “thug” at an Oct. 18 summit on bail reform hosted by the Minneapolis Foundation.
Guests at the summit, where Orput sat on a panel with State Public Defender Bill Ward, who oversees the state board of public defense, said Moriarty told Orput that the word was racially charged. Attendees applauded Moriarty, who was in the audience.
“I asked him to rethink his language,” Moriarty tweeted that day from her personal Twitter account. “A racist tirade followed.”
Orput said in an interview that he had used the word “thug” to mimic language he felt some members of the public would use in reaction to counties eliminating cash bail.
“I said, ‘When you do something that’s progressive, a certain segment of the population … they’re going to label it as a hug-a-thug program,’ ” Orput recalled.
Panelist Tonja Honsey, a member of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, asked Orput to reconsider his language, said Chanda Smith Baker, senior vice president of impact at the Minneapolis Foundation.
During a question-and-answer session, Moriarty mirrored Honsey’s remarks, said Smith Baker, who was in the audience.
Smith Baker said Moriarty did not call Orput a racist.
“It took great courage for Mary to stand up and make the point,” Smith Baker said. “It took great courage for Pete to stay in the conversation, and I did not walk away from it feeling that either of them had name-called.”
Orput said he was misquoted and unfairly targeted. The confrontation was so “humiliating,” he said, that he pulled out of an Oct. 30 “Reimagining Justice” conference hosted by the Minnesota Justice Research Center.
Orput admitted that he reacted strongly to Moriarty’s response, but he said he did not file a complaint with the board and was not interviewed for the investigation.
Orput is viewed by many in the field as a bridge between conservative law enforcement partners and criminal justice reform.
Moriarty’s attorney, Matthew A. Frank, said that Wednesday was a great day because Moriarty will return to work.
“There will be another day to focus on why Mary Moriarty was removed from office for three months, the process and investigation she endured in the meantime, and the decision to send her a letter of reprimand,” he said in a statement.
“But in short, I do not believe these actions were consistent with the values of public defense and free speech.”