A Baltimore ethics board is not required to release the names of people who donated $14,000 to a legal fund for City Council President Nick Mosby and former State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, according to a court decision.

In an opinion entered into the public record on Monday, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill ruled that the Baltimore City Board of Ethics was correct in denying the public an unredacted version of a list of donors.

Fletcher-Hill overturned a decision by the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board, which said Baltimore City erred in redacting the donor list.

The ruling is the latest update in a saga that began in May 2022, when the city ethics board first issued a report that faulted Nick Mosby for three violations related to the fund, including not disclosing it on his annual ethics form. The Mosby 2021 Trust was launched as former State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was under investigation by the federal government; she was eventually found guilty of lying on a mortgage application and on two counts of perjury. Last summer, she filed for divorce.

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The ethics board report did not disclose the names of the donors, but noted the legal defense fund received a $5,000 contribution from the resident agent for a contractor that is a city-certified minority- or woman-owned business. The city refused to release donor names to the media, citing a provision of the Maryland Public Information Act that concerns the financial information of individuals.

Attorneys representing The Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Brew contested the decision. In September, the state’s public information act compliance board ruled the names should be released, but Baltimore appealed the panel’s opinion, which put it before Fletcher-Hill.

The Mosby 2021 Trust

The ethics board’s 2022 report alleged Council President Nick Mosby committed three blunders: failing to disclose the fund on his annual ethics report, failing to disavow himself from the fund, and taking money from controlled donors — that is, people seeking to do business with Baltimore who are prohibited from giving solicited or unsolicited gifts to elected officials.

The Democrat appealed the report, arguing that he did not create the trust and did not directly solicit donations to it. The fund’s trustee at the time of its creation was local communications consultant Robyn Murphy, according to IRS documents.

The report went before Judge Fletcher-Hill in February 2023. He threw out the most serious allegation that Mosby actually received money from prohibited donors, saying the board provided no evidence to show the cash ended up in his hands. Fletcher-Hill agreed with the ethics board that Mosby should have declared the trust on his annual ethics form, which requires public servants to declare financial interests such as property and side gigs.

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Mosby’s attorney Robert Fulton Dashiell argued that trust funds are not specifically listed as business entities under the city’s ethics law, and that his client had zero control over the formation and operation of the fund.

Outside legal counsel hired by the city argued that the council president could have told the public that the trust was operating without his consent. Mosby “never asserted that this trust was being run by a rogue actor or someone without his permission,” Sarah Hall of the D.C. law firm Epstein, Becker and Green said.

The five-member ethics board is housed in the independent Office of the Inspector General that interprets and oversees the city’s ethics code. Though Marilyn Mosby represented Baltimore, she was a state official who did not fall under the city ethics board’s scope.

The board’s report said at least two controlled donors contributed to the fund.

A resident agent for an entity that was a city-certified minority- or woman-owned business through 2021 gave the fund’s largest donation of $5,000. The business was a subcontractor in a 2020 bid before the city spending board, which Council President Nick Mosby chairs.

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A $100 donation came from the executive director of an organization that received a federal stimulus grant worth several hundred thousand dollars through the spending board.

According to the ethics board report, the trust’s law firm was Reed Smith, the same law firm hired by Nick Mosby’s campaign in 2021.

This story was updated to correct when the Mosby 2021 Trust was established. It was created prior to Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's indictment.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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