Protesters were blocked Monday from rallying at the Minnesota Board of Public Defense's office in downtown Minneapolis in support of a suspended public defender.

Seven protesters demanded that the board reinstate Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty, who was suspended indefinitely on Dec. 23 pending an investigation.

They intended to air their grievances to state Chief Public Defender Bill Ward but were intercepted in the first-floor lobby of the Novel Coworking Tritech building at 331 2nd Av. S.

Protesters said they believe Moriarty was targeted because of her advocacy for communities of color and her criticism of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, among other reasons.

Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), Racial Justice Network and Cop Watch Minneapolis, among others, organized the 1 p.m. rally that never made it to the board's ninth-floor office.

Moriarty previously said her suspension came days after a board committee asked about her "inflexibility" with other criminal justice officials; "excessive absences" with no explanation; an allegation of "racism" she had made; a retweet referencing the anniversary of a lynching, and a "culture of fear" in her office.

She has disputed the claims.

Kristine Kolar, a chief public defender with the board, stopped the protesters in the lobby and said they could not visit the board's office because they had not made an appointment.

Building management also asked the board to prohibit the group's access, she added.

"We had intentions to visit your office in a civilized manner," said Michelle Gross, president of CUAPB. "It's very strange to us that we're being told we can't go up there, or that management has decided that we should have a meeting in the lobby, which is a little unusual, and again not the appropriate way for us to address our grievances under the First Amendment."

A message left at Novel Coworking headquarters in Chicago was not returned.

Nate Dybvig of Minnesota Media Services Inc. is serving as the board's spokesman in the Moriarty case and said the office had no response to Monday's events and no updates on the investigation into her suspension.

The board's office is publicly accessible via elevators on the first floor and skyway level of the Novel building.

Members of the media and one protester had accessed the ninth floor as Gross and a handful of supporters were stopped in the lobby.

A man in the building wearing a Novel-branded baseball cap and uniform shirt later asked the protesters to vacate the building after they had engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with Kolar and spoke to the media.

A woman accompanying him told the group she had called police.

Protesters left just before 2 p.m. No police arrived while they were in the building.

"It's absolutely unacceptable," said civil rights activist and attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, who attended the rally.

"It is our right as residents in the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County to be able to approach our government, to be able to have meetings with the powers that be and to demand justice and equitable results."

Last week Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison called for the board to review the process that led to Moriarty's suspension.

"I'm concerned about her treatment; it appears connected to her advocacy for racial justice," Ellison tweeted in part on Dec. 24.

A petition requesting Moriarty's reinstatement on started by "public defenders, public interest attorneys, and other public defense staff from all over the country" has more than 600 signatures.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 • @ChaoStrib