- The 45-year-old Sri Lankan American, who was Maryland’s former Deputy Attorney General, handled the “Serial” podcast subject Bangladeshi American Adnan Syed’s case for the state of Maryland for years.
With a few days left for the Maryland June 19 primary, the campaign of Thiruvendran “Thiru” Vignarajah, a Democratic candidate for the Baltimore City State Attorney’s race, is embroiled in a controversy. The 45-year-old Sri Lankan American, who was Maryland’s former Deputy Attorney General, is accused of harassing and abusing staff while working at the Baltimore attorney general’s office.
Katie Dorian, 35, who worked for Vignarajah, almost a decade ago, at the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office told The Baltimore Sun that Vignarajah “abused his position of authority, subjecting an impressionable young woman to mental abuse and manipulation, threatening to ruin her career if she ever spoke out and even threatening her physically.”
She told the paper that she broke her silence because Vignarajah is “not a person who should be in any position of power and let alone that much power with that much trust.” Dorian, who now heads the organized crime unit at the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, also advised young women against working for her former boss.
Her accusations were reported on July 6, the same day Vignarajah released an ad bragging about Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s endorsement, as reported by The Sun. In the ad, Hogan said he trusts Vignarajah “ to do what’s right for us. He said Baltimore needs someone who is “a crime fighter focused on protecting victims, a real State’s Attorney, a proven prosecutor.”
A day earlier, Vignarajah and Hogan were seen marching together in a Fourth of July parade.
However, Dorian is not the only former staffer accusing Vignarajah. The Baltimore Sun has reported 15 former subordinates and colleagues at the city prosecutor’s office and the state attorney general’s office saying that Vignarajah “punished both men and women for perceived disloyalty and humiliated them in front of colleagues.”
Among them was A.J. Clayborne, a Harvard law student who interned for Vignarajah in the summer of 2015. He recalled being once “harshly criticized” in front of other interns and staff members “for what Vignarajah called a failure to take adequate meeting notes,” adding that his former boss was enjoying it. Many also confessed to The Sun that Vignarajah was “particularly abusive” toward Dorian, and they say him “yell and swear at her, while also observing that he isolated her from co-workers.”
Meanwhile, Vignarajah’s political director Anthony McCarthy told The Sun in a statement that the allegations were a “coordinated political effort” from rival candidates. He said the campaign is focusing on pressing issues like Baltimore’s homicide rates. “We will not be distracted. We will stay focused on solutions to our city’s greatest challenges. When they go low, we go high.”
Vignarajah previously ran unsuccessfully for state’s attorney in 2018 and mayor in 2020. However, for this campaign, “he raised over $600,000 in the most recent cycle,” The Baltimore Sun noted, “more than the other two candidates combined.”
For the Baltimore state attorney race, he hasn’t been endorsed by the Indian American IMPACT or the AAPI Victory Fund.
He handled Adnan Syed’s case for the state of Maryland for years, first as the lead counsel on the case while serving as the state’s deputy attorney general before joining DLA Piper US LLP Baltimore office as a litigation partner in January 2017, as reported at the time by The Daily Record. He has been one of the key players in the battle of Adnan Syed v. Maryland. As deputy Maryland attorney general, Vignarajah said in 2016, before Syed’s conviction was vacated later that year, that the young man was convicted due to “overwhelming evidence,” adding, “he did it, and the state proved it,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
Syed, now 40, of Baltimore, Maryland, has been serving a life sentence since 2000, when he was convicted of killing his high school classmate and ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, 17. Lee’s body was found in a shallow grave in Leakin Park, at Baltimore’s western edge in 1999. Syed was arrested, and convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in the death of Lee. Syed has maintained his innocence, and the podcast drew widespread attention to his case.
His murder trial inspired the podcast “Serial,” which debuted in 2014, featuring as its host Sarah Koenig, a former producer with the weekly public radio program “This American Life.” Its first season focused on whether Syed had received a fair trial. It was downloaded more than 100 million times and won a Peabody Award, turning the case into a topic of a national conversation. For many listeners, “Serial” raised doubts about Syed’s guilt.
Syed Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and friend of Syed’s family who first brought his case to the attention of “This American Life,” which developed the podcast, took to social media to denounce Vignarajah. “This is the man who prosecuted Adnan pro bono for five years, ensuring Adnan did not get a new trial after two courts had ordered it,” she wrote on Facebook. “He’s now running for State’s Attorney of Baltimore City, the top prosecutor, and would not only put an end to DNA testing and efforts to exonerate Adnan, he would be a menace to female colleagues and other defendants. A despicable man by every measure.”
Born and raised in Baltimore, the son of retired Baltimore City school teachers, Vignarajah and his sister Krishanti O’Mara Vignarajah arrived in the U.S. as young children when their parents fled the civil war in Sri Lanka. He graduated from Woodlawn High. He then attended Yale University and Harvard Law School, earning a degree in Ethics at King’s College, London, and working at McKinsey in between, according to his website. He was elected president of the Harvard Law Review, the same position Barack Obama once held. Thiru earned judicial clerkships with Judge Guido Calabresi and Justice Stephen Breyer on the United States Supreme Court.
He began as a federal prosecutor in the Violent Crimes Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, then served as Chief of Major Investigations in the State’s Attorney’s Office, which was responsible for handling the “toughest cases against the city’s worst criminals,” his website says. He was then named Deputy Attorney General for the State of Maryland, where he made Maryland the first state in America to establish statewide discriminatory profiling guidelines. When he was named Deputy Attorney General, the city police commissioner called him a “once-in-a-generation lawyer and leader,” his website says.
Krishanti O’Mara Vignarajah currently serves as president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Previously, she served as Policy Director to former First Lady Michelle Obama. She also ran for governor of Maryland in the 2018 primary election, finishing fourth. However, she gained some national attention because had she won, she would have been the first woman, immigrant or person of color to be elected governor in the state. In June 2020, Vignarajah went public with her breast cancer diagnosis. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, she said, “My hope is to do my part to lift some of the stigma and anxiety that sits around breast cancer.”