MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When a criminal case hits Hennepin County, it’s the prosecutors who speak out. On the other side of those cases is a defense attorney, or if the suspect can’t afford that, a public defender is appointed.

Mary Moriarty is in charge of public defenders in Hennepin County. She is now on leave.

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The state board who oversees her position says, “Mary Moriarty will be on paid leave pending a review of issues that have been brought to the attention of members of the Board of Public Defense.”

A group of concerned citizens tried to go into the state defender’s office to defend Moriarty, but they were stopped in the lobby.

Michelle Gross, with Communities United against Police Brutality spoke to a staff member in the lobby.

“We are here because we are upset about the suspension of Mary Moriarty, who is an excellent chief public defender,” Gross said.

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The group believes Moriarty was suspended for being outspoken on issues like pay for public defenders.

In Hennepin County Prosecutors start at $$74,177.82 a year, and public defenders start at 60,401. Some call it uneven and unfair.

Civil Rights Attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong tells WCCO, “They represent a disproportionate number of people of color so their office deserves to have good leadership, consistent leadership, which Mary Moriarty has provided. They also deserve to be funded properly compared to their counterparts at the HC Attorney’s office.”

The group says they will be at next week’s board meeting to make their point known again.

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The state board would not comment beyond their statement. Mary Moriarty did not respond to our request for an interview.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield