Baltimore’s Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson has made good on her vow to fight an order by the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board that the city release the names of the individuals who contributed to a legal defense fund for City Council President Nick Mosby and former State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
The Board ruled earlier this month that the city Ethics Board violated the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) when it refused to release the list of more than 130 donors – with names and addresses – to The Brew and other media.
In a petition for judicial review filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Friday and made available today, Thompson says the board “erred as a matter of law” in its interpretation of the MPIA.
Thompson argued the board’s ruling results in “an unintended and unworkable burden on local government record custodians,” arguing that it improperly requires the city “to investigate and determine whether an entity’s self-categorization as as a political nonprofit under tax law is valid.”
Because the city “is not an agent of the Mosby 2021 Trust, the Internal Revenue Service or the State Board of Elections,” the Law Department argued, it “cannot be required to assume the legal obligations of any of these entities by disclosing information that some other level of government may determine might need to be disclosed in another format and forum in the future.”
The argument will be explained in more detail in the city’s forthcoming memorandum, according to the petition which identifies chief solicitor Hilary Ruley as the attorney for the city in the matter.
Protected, or Public?
The city Ethics Board earlier this year withheld the names of people who contributed to a fund as the Mosbys faced legal troubles on a number of fronts.
The board had argued that the information could be withheld under a provision of the MPIA that concerns the financial information of individuals.
But The Brew filed an appeal, arguing that the names of donors to the prominent couple were not shielded from disclosure by that part of the act and the information requested more closely resembled political contributions, which are public.
The state panel agreed, concluding that the provision cited by lawyers for the city does not shield the redacted information from disclosure.
“Campaign finance activity,” the ruling noted, “is not ordinarily protected financial information.
“We think that donations like these – donations that are made to support elected officials in their political capacities – are much more akin to that sort of financial activity, which is commonly accepted as disclosable,” the board found.
The Board made a similar ruling in support of the Baltimore Sun’s appeal seeking release of the names.