Former public defender Mary Moriarty wins race for Hennepin County attorney

By: - November 8, 2022 10:13 pm

Mary Moriarty stands for a portrait in September 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Long-time public defender Mary Moriarty handily beat former prosecutor and judge Martha Holton Dimick in the race for Hennepin County attorney in a major victory for reform-minded progressives.

Moriarty, 58, ran a campaign focused on increasing police accountability and expanding alternatives to incarceration when it “advances public safety.” That message stood in sharp contrast to Holton Dimick, who won endorsements from police and moderate Democrats by promising not to “mollycoddle these violent criminals.”

The Hennepin County attorney oversees 200 lawyers, including the largest staff of prosecutors in the state, handling crimes ranging from rapes to wage theft to police misconduct.

Moriarty joins a small group of former defense attorneys who have won the job of top prosecutor seeking to reform the criminal justice system, including Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, who was ousted earlier this year by voters concerned about rising crime.

Moriarty’s success follows a bruising election in 2021 for progressives who sought to defund the Minneapolis Police Department, when voters elected a more moderate Minneapolis City Council and rejected a ballot initiative to remove the minimum staffing levels for police and replace the police department with a new department of public safety.

The election for county attorney was the first since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who did not seek reelection, referred the case to Attorney General Keith Ellison for prosecution.

Moriarty said she will make prosecution decisions herself when it comes to criminal police misconduct, rather than refer cases to other county attorneys or grand juries.

She also said she would try to improve the culture of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and build a more collegial relationship between prosecutors and public defenders. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has repeatedly failed to turn over evidence about police officers that could be favorable to defendants, known as Brady material.

Moriarty spent nearly her entire career as a criminal defense attorney. She was ousted as Hennepin County’s chief public defender in 2020 over allegations she shared offensive social media posts and created a fearful work environment. Moriarty and her allies — including Attorney General Keith Ellison — charge she was targeted for her racial justice advocacy, and she was awarded a $300,000 settlement.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.