Former Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty formally announced her plans to run for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office in next November's election.
Moriarty tweeted the news Monday morning, noting that she has met with "countless" community leaders and advocates in reaching her decision.
"Through those conversations, it has become clear to me that trust in the Hennepin County Attorney has eroded," Moriarty tweeted. "I will work tirelessly to restore that trust by being transparent, accountable, and accessible to the community."
Moriarty is the first candidate to formally announce a run. Three potential candidates have said they are exploring a run for the office: Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Saraswati Singh, Richfield City Council Member Simon Trautmann and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced in early September that he would not seek re-election next year. The election will determine who runs the office for four years, starting in 2023.
The post oversees the state's largest office of its kind, with 98 attorneys in the civil division and 110 attorneys in the criminal division. The office has a total staff of 208 and an annual budget of $61.9 million for fiscal year 2021.
The Hennepin County Attorney's current salary is $195,065.
Moriarty has clashed with Freeman, who some critics say has perpetuated policies that unfairly penalize communities of color. Freeman also has been criticized for not charging several police officers who killed civilians on the job.
Freeman's office charged and earned convictions against former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, but has been criticized for not taking the same action when Black men are killed. His office charged former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last year in the killing of George Floyd, who is Black, but the case was quickly taken over by the Minnesota Attorney General's Office with assistance from the county.
"The Hennepin County Attorney's Office could be a powerful partner to lead transformational reform in the criminal legal system, but we need a leader who has the experience, vision and courage to create meaningful and lasting change," Moriarty tweeted.
The killing of Floyd in 2020 in Minneapolis police custody and the subsequent worldwide call for racial equity also influenced Moriarty's decision.
"I had hoped that after George Floyd it would give us the opportunity to have a racial reckoning of sorts, and I see that slipping away a little bit," Moriarty said in an interview Monday. "I've never seen a better time for change. This time, this history, this place is really where we can do some pretty remarkable things together as a community, and that was a major factor in my decision to run."
Some issues Moriarty plans to tackle as county attorney include treating juveniles in the system with more evidence-based practices, pursuing alternatives to prison for substance abusers and holding police accountable.
Public defenders and prosecutors view more police body camera footage than anyone else in the criminal justice system, including police leaders, she said. The County Attorney's Office could alert police leaders to videos showing misconduct by their officers or criminally charge officers if appropriate, she added.
"Even with the most progressive police chiefs — they can't reform police departments themselves," Moriarty said.
Approaching youth crime with an understanding that their brains aren't fully developed will be a guiding practice, Moriarty said.
She wants to steer resources toward youth and to employ more "intensive" restorative justice practices instead of automatically deferring to incarceration.
Moriarty pointed to her 31 years as a public defender and her management of about 200 staffers while Chief Hennepin County Public Defender as strengths in her candidacy.
Moriarty has received support in her previous role from influential leaders and groups, including civil rights advocate and attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Communities United Against Police Brutality.
The Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers will recognize Moriarty's work Saturday with the distinguished service award at its annual dinner.
While Moriarty was at the public defender's office, the Minnesota Board of Public Defense placed her on indefinite suspension in 2019 for allegations that she posted offensive content on social media, created a fearful environment in her office and had fractured relationships with criminal justice leaders.
She was later issued a letter of reprimand for making unauthorized statements "to advance [her] personal agenda" that had "a disruptive effect on the work of the state board," among other reasons.
The board declined in 2020 to reappoint Moriarty as chief public defender. In 2021, the board agreed to pay Moriarty $300,000 to settle a lawsuit she brought against them.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708