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Mary Moriarty
Mary Moriarty (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

State board to pay $300K to Hennepin public defender

The Minnesota Board of Public Defense on Tuesday agreed to pay a $300,000 settlement to former Chief Hennepin County Defender Mary Moriarty, less than a year after the board voted against renewing her contract after she clashed with the state’s top public defender.

The state board did not admit wrongdoing, but agreed to resolve all disputes between state leadership and Moriarty. In return, Moriarty will retire from the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office and agree not to seek future work for any of the state’s offices.

“I think the number speaks for itself,” Moriarty told the Star Tribune about the dollar amount of the settlement. She said she worries whether Minnesota public defenders can speak candidly about the practices of prosecutors and justices after what happened to her.

Moriarty became the first woman to lead the Hennepin office in 2014, and has been an outspoken critic of racial disparities and other issues of fairness in the Twin Cities criminal justice system. She has at times argued with police, prosecutors and judges outside the courtroom.

At a six-hour meeting in October to discuss Moriarty’s contract, she accused the state’s chief public defender, Bill Ward, of sexism and racism. He denied it, saying Moriarty’s inability to work with others and rebuild relationships was the problem.

The board put Moriarty on paid leave late in 2019 amid allegations that she posted “inappropriate and offensive” content on social media, had “fractured” relationships with criminal justice leaders and the judicial branch, and created a fear of retaliation.

The board issued a letter of reprimand and reinstated her in 2020 after Attorney General Keith Ellison said he believed she was targeted for speaking out against racial bias in the criminal justice system.


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