Mary Moriarty gives a victory speech after winning her race for Hennepin County Attorney. She spoke to a room full enthusiastic supporters and volunteers at the Gold Room in Downtown Minneapolis. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

Former public defender Mary Moriarty was elected Hennepin County attorney Tuesday night.

Moriarty earned 58 percent of the votes with 96 percent of precincts reporting. Moriarty, 58, is the first openly gay woman to be elected Hennepin County attorney.

Her opponent, retired judge and prosecutor Martha Holton Dimick, 69, received 42 percent of the votes.

“I am deeply grateful to everyone who took the time to vote today and over the last six weeks,” Moriarty said in her acceptance speech at the campaign’s party at the GoldRoom in downtown Minneapolis. “You, the voters, have spoken and are demanding better of our criminal legal system. This is our time to forge a new path forward: one that keeps our communities safe while ending the cycles of mass incarceration that have deeply harmed communities of color and broken up too many families.”

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is the largest public law office in the state. 

Moriarty previously served as the chief Hennepin County public defender,  leading the second largest law office in the state. Moriarty campaigned on a criminal justice reform agenda that promises to hold police accountable. The county attorney has the power to prosecute police officers in officer-involved shootings and other cases.

“I believe in addressing the entire criminal legal system from a public health perspective, and not continuing to do the same failed policies. People in the community and police need to be held accountable,” Moriarty told Sahan Journal in October. “Accountability is really important because to prosecute violent crime, I need to have good police work.”

Moriarty replaces Mike Freeman, who served 24 non-consecutive years in the role and was first elected in 1990. Freeman did not run for reelection.

The county attorney’s office has a proposed budget of $69 million for 2023, and employs 460 people. The county attorney sets policies and priorities for prosecuting criminal cases, oversees child protection and child support cases, and provides legal advice and representation to county government, among many other responsibilities.

The county attorney is one of the only elected officials with direct power over the criminal justice system, and is considered by many as one of the most powerful seats in the county.

Moriarty received endorsements from the Minnesota DFL, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Hennepin County Commissioners Angela Conley and Irene Fernando, and Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene. Musician John Legend also publicly endorsed Moriarty on Twitter.

Lifelong public defender

Moriarty attended Macalester College and graduated from the University of Minnesota law school in 1989. 

Moriarty was placed on leave in 2019 as chief public defender and was not reappointed to the post after an investigation found that she created a hostile work environment, among other findings.

Moriarty refuted the allegations and received a $300,000 settlement from the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, which oversees the state’s public defense offices. As part of the settlement, Moriarty retired from the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, where she spent her entire legal career, and agreed that she would no longer work as a public defender in Minnesota.

“I was not fired. I was not reappointed as chief public defender for the state, but that just meant I went back to being a Hennepin county public defender,” Moriarty told Sahan Journal in October. “I decided to retire because of the hostile work environment there.”

Moriarty said she aims to reform the criminal legal system through a public health perspective. She also told Sahan Journal in October that she will develop a policy requiring county attorneys to evaluate potential immigration consequences when charging individuals to insulate them from potential deportation.

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...