BALTIMORE (WJZ)—It’s official. State Senator Ulysses Currie will now face tough scrutiny from a joint ethics committee early next year over his relationship with grocery chain Shoppers Food Warehouse.
Derek Valcourt explains the ethics committee has received a formal request for an inquiry.
The request comes from the Senate president as promised, launching hearings into whether the senator violated ethics rules.
Defense attorneys convinced a federal jury that Currie, 74, wasn’t acting criminally when he worked as a paid consultant for Shoppers Food Warehouse, but convincing his colleagues in the legislature that he acted ethically will be a lot harder.
Currie will now have to plead his ethical innocence before the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.
Twelve colleagues, six from the House and six from the Senate, will investigate whether Currie acted unethically when he had meetings with state officials on Shoppers’ behalf, when he voted on legislation that directly benefitted Shoppers and most importantly when he failed five years in a row to report his paid relationship with Shoppers on financial ethics forms as required.
The joint committee makes a recommendation to the full Senate which will then decide possible punishments ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.
Government watchdog groups say Currie should be held accountable.
“We are disturbed that those actions took place,” said Susan Wichmann, Common Cause executive director. “We feel that they are ethical violations of Maryland’s law and that the Senate needs to send a strong message and censure Senator Currie.”
Johns Hopkins political science professor Matthew Crenson says with Currie’s 24 years in the legislature and friendships he’s made there, it’s possible his colleagues may excuse his behavior.
“There are two ways to look at it,” Crenson said. “On the other hand, they may also recognize that this makes the General Assembly look on the whole pretty bad.”
There was no comment from Senator President Mike Miller who formally made the request for an inquiry. He would only release a prepared statement saying he waited until now for the request to make sure he did not interfere with the criminal process.
Currie will have an opportunity to testify before the committee with his attorney present.
So far no dates have been set for hearings on the matter.