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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter11:11 amMar 18, 20240

Judge rules that city can withhold names of donors to Nick and Marilyn Mosby’s legal defense fund

Decision rejects the interpretation of state law by the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board, which ruled in favor of donor disclosure as requested by The Baltimore Brew and Sun

Above: A page from the list of donations to the Mosby Legal Defense Fund redacted by the Baltimore Ethics Board.

The same judge who ruled that City Council President Nick Mosby violated Baltimore’s ethics law by not disclosing the existence of a legal defense fund set up for himself and his former wife has ruled that the names of the donors need not be revealed.

Circuit Court Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill overturned a decision last September by the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board, which ordered the city Ethics Board to disclose the names.

According to his ruling, released on Friday, the Public Information Act bars disclosure of private financial activities, so the names of the donors can stay secret.

“This Court concludes that information identifying specific contributions made by private individuals to a private trust through a private website is information concerning the contributors’ ‘financial . . . activities’ and therefore is ‘information about the finances of an individual’ that the City Board of Ethics was required to withhold from public disclosure,” he wrote in a 13-page decision.

The Baltimore Brew and Baltimore Sun have been fighting the city’s removal of the names of the 130-plus contributors to the defense fund, which was set up by the Mosbys after they came under a criminal investigation in 2021.

The investigation led to the conviction of Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore’s former state’s attorney, on mortgage fraud and perjury counts during two separate trials. Her sentencing is currently scheduled for May.

At issue: are the names of the 130-plus contributors to the Mosby defense fund exempt from public disclosure under a provision of the Maryland Public Information Act?

After Fletcher-Hill last year ordered Nick Mosby to disclose the donors to the legal defense fund, the city Ethics Board redacted the names and addresses of the donors, saying the MPIA does not “permit unfettered access to information that the government holds about individual citizens.”

The Brew and Sun appealed the decision to the MPIA Compliance Board, which ruled in favor of the media organizations and ordered the city to disclose the names.

This was met by an appeal to the Circuit Court by acting city solicitor Ebony Thompson, who argued that the Compliance Board’s ruling would place an “unworkable burden on local government record custodians.”

Fletcher-Hill relied on Section 4-336 of the MPIA in making his decision.

It states that “a custodian shall deny inspection of the part of a public record that contains information about the finances of an individual, including assets, income, liabilities, net worth, bank balances, financial history or activities, or creditworthiness.”

The Ethics Board was justified in denying public access to donor information because “identifying the individuals would have disclosed exempt individual financial information,” he wrote.

Marilyn and Nick Mosby's legal defense fund homepage.

Marilyn and Nick Mosby’s legal defense fund homepage.

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