Judge delays city ethics hearing for council President Nick Mosby

Published on: November 21, 2022 7:47 PM EST|Updated on: November 22, 2022 8:20 AM EST

Council President Nick Mosby listens during a Baltimore City Board of Estimates meeting inside City Hall on 10/5/22.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge granted City Council President Nick Mosby’s request to delay a hearing in his appeal of a city ethics board finding, after the Democrat said he was unable to retain counsel.

The Baltimore City Board of Ethics ruled in May that Mosby had violated City Hall’s ethics code by indirectly soliciting donations for a legal defense fund, including contributions from at least two contractors who had worked for the city. People seeking to do business with the city are considered controlled donors under the ethics code; public officials are not permitted to receive or solicit donations from them.

The fund was set up on behalf of Nick Mosby and his wife, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who is the subject of a federal perjury case. Council President Mosby has not been charged with any crimes.

Nick Mosby appealed the board’s ruling in June. The Democrat submitted an emergency motion to Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill on Thursday asking for a postponement, citing an inability to retain counsel. Fletcher-Hill opened Monday’s hearing by asking Nick Mosby why he waited until two business days before the hearing, which has been scheduled since August, to file the motion.

Nick Mosby replied that he has been searching for representation to no avail.

“The universe of attorneys who ultimately could be found competent to help provide counsel to me is very small,” Nick Mosby replied. “When you couple that with the fact that the process is with the city of Baltimore, finding an attorney who does not have conflict with the city is even more challenging.”

Sarah Hall of the Washington, D.C., law firm Epstein, Becker & Green, who represents the ethics board, argued that if Nick Mosby filed an appeal without competent counsel in place “then that’s his responsibility.” Any additional delay would drag the case along even further, she said.

After about 30 minutes of back-and-forth between Nick Mosby and Hall, Judge Fletcher-Hill said there was “no good excuse for not having made the motion earlier or for not including the arrangements for counsel earlier.”

“But I am concerned that this is an important case,” Fletcher-Hill continued. “I want [Nick Mosby] to have the benefit of the advice of counsel and the possibility of making arguments to the court.”

He approved the council president’s request, scheduling the hearing for Jan. 10.

“Let me be clear,” he said. “Unfortunately, Mr. Mosby, if you’re unable to find counsel when January 10 comes around, then you’re going to have to proceed without counsel.”

The Mosby 2021 Trust

In May, the ethics board released a 17-page report detailing the Mosby 2021 Trust, a legal defense fund that was established by two unnamed individuals on behalf of the Mosbys.

Marilyn Mosby, the city’s two-term top prosecutor, is charged with two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements. She lost her bid for reelection and will leave office in January; she maintains her innocence and her trial is set for next year.

Donors contributed more than $7,700 to the fund. The board — citing a 1993 opinion of the Maryland ethics commission that found that state ethics law “very substantially restricts” contributions to legal defense funds of public officials — ruled that Nick Mosby indirectly solicited donations for a legal-defense fund that took contributions from at least two contractors who have worked for the city.

According to the report, the largest individual contribution of $5,000 was made by a resident agent for a contractor that is a city-certified minority- or woman-owned business, which was a subcontractor on a deal considered by the city’s spending board in 2020. The executive director of a nonprofit that was awarded a multi-thousand dollar grant from Baltimore in March made a $100 donation, according to the ethics board.

The ethics board’s then-Director Jeffrey Hochstetler made two test donations to the fund with aliases and nonexistent addresses to determine if its operators were confirming the origin of donations, according to the report.

In its ruling, the board said Nick Mosby indirectly accepted donations from controlled donors by failing to ask the fund to cease operations and ordered him to stop accepting money from the fund, work to identify all donors to it, and return all money from controlled donors.

“Although the respondent may not have directly accepted a gift from a controlled donor, the Mosby Trust directly accepted such gifts on the respondent’s behalf,” the board wrote. “Under the circumstances here, that amounts to the respondent’s indirect acceptance of such gifts. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a clearer instance of indirect acceptance.”

Nick Mosby has maintained he never received any money from the trust and that he instructed its operators “to return the limited amount of funds received on my behalf” in advance of the report’s publication.

“The Board was investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury — that is not a fair or impartial process,” he said in a May statement.