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Support Mary Moriarty's Reinstatement as Chief Public Defender of Hennepin County

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On Monday, December 23, 2019, Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty was relieved of her duties and placed on administrative leave from her role in Hennepin County. Mary, who has worked in the office for 30 years, has dedicated her entire career to making public defense better. Mary has touched the lives of so many clients, office members and leaders through years of her training and coaching in Minneapolis and all over the United States. 

For anyone who has had the privilege to know Mary, it is clear that this decision is not ideal for the clients, team members or the community she has served for the last three decades. Below is the text of the letter drafted by a cohort of lawyers from around the country trained by Mary. We confidently know there are other individuals who also stand in solidarity with her and alongside us as we ask that the State Board of Public Defense of Minnesota rights this egregious wrong.

We the undersigned write as individuals in support of Mary Moriarty.  We are public defenders, public interest attorneys, and other public defense staff from all over the country and in all stages of our careers.  Most of us know Ms. Moriarty through her selfless dedication to teaching and inspiring young public defenders around the country. Many of us have had the privilege to teach alongside her.  She inspires us, challenges us, mentors us, and shows us that a courageous leader doesn’t have to be the loudest voice in the room. Ms. Moriarty’s positive impact on our careers has translated into better representation for hundreds of thousands of indigent accused persons all over the United States.

Ms. Moriarty’s heart for public defense is evident in her career of service to the people of Hennepin County.  In particular, her advocacy around matters of racial justice is a model for all of us, and especially for those of in leadership positions in other jurisdictions.  For instance, Ms. Moriarty’s office shined a light on racially discriminatory policing practices involving low-level marijuana offenses. The Hennepin County Public Defender’s calls for reforms led to the end of marijuana stings in downtown Minneapolis that disproportionately affected black residents.1  Ms. Moriarty’s voice on the issue of cash bail, a system that drives wealth-based detention in Minnesota, has been vital to recent efforts to end the practice.2  Her willingness to speak truth, even when it is difficult for others to hear it, and even when it is personally dangerous for her, is the type of zealous advocacy that all public defenders must provide their clients. 

Although we do not work in the Hennepin office, each one of us is shocked by the allegation that “a culture of fear” exists in her office.  Ms. Moriarty is a staunch supporter of her staff and her clients, and she is by equal measures kind, compassionate, and empathetic. What is more, we are concerned that Ms. Moriarty’s abrupt suspension--without notice to the public defender’s 118-member staff or the thousands of people they serve--will undermine the Hennepin County Public Defender’s core mission: to provide excellent legal representation to children and adults who need, but cannot afford, counsel.

We wish to remind this Board of the first principle outlined in the American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System, which is that “[t]he public defense function…is independent.”3

This principle specifically requires a nonpartisan board to provide independent oversight, and notes that “[t]he selection of the chief defender…should be made on the basis of merit.”4  This principle reminds us that our chief defenders should be lawyers who advocate for the people they serve even when it is not politically palatable.  Mary Moriarty exemplifies this principle.

As you conduct your investigation, we respectfully request that you allow Ms. Moriarty to participate fully in the process and you provide her with the same due process and dignity that she has spent a career championing for the residents of Hennepin County.  We are confident that at the end of a fair investigation, you will reinstate Ms. Moriarty to her position as Chief Defender of Hennepin County. 




1 Dylan Thomas, Police halt downtown marijuana stings, Southwest Journal, June 11, 2018. 

2 Rachel Hutton, Bail industry faces pressure to change, Star Tribune, Feb. 1, 2019. 

3 American Bar Assoc., Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System (Feb. 2002), 

4 Id. 

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