BALTIMORE (AP) — Maryland state Sen. Ulysses Currie has great people skills, but no one would call him smart, the first witness for the defense testified Monday in Currie’s bribery trial.

“He is just not very astute when it comes to mechanics of legislating,” former Delegate Timothy Maloney testified, adding later that “on the smart end he is way at the bottom; on the nice end he is right at the top.”

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Maloney, an attorney who served in the legislature with Currie and described him as a friend and a client, testified how he helped Currie draft a letter to a grocery chain that later hired him as a consultant. Maloney said the letter outlined the consulting arrangement with the Shoppers Food Warehouse chain, a letter that stated Currie would not appear before the state legislature or local elected bodies on behalf of the company.

Under cross-examination, prosecutor Leo Wise asked about Currie’s performance in the legislature and Maloney said he was good with people, but not with complex subjects such as the budget.

Maloney said he suggested putting the outline in writing and helped Currie with the letter because it was not something his colleague could easily do. He added that he did not charge Currie for his time because the fellow lawmaker had referred numerous clients to his law firm.

The description touched off a testy back-and-forth with Maloney asking if he could finish his response, and the prosecutor saying Maloney was not answering his question. The exchange ended in a bench conference.

Wise questioned Maloney on how he could say Currie was not smart if he had a graduate degree in education and rose to leadership positions in the General Assembly.

“No one would call him smart,” Maloney said. He testified that it pained him to speak so bluntly about a friend, adding that what Currie “did do well is bring people together.”

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Currie is charged with using his position to benefit the chain.

Prosecutors say Currie was paid more than $245,000, payments that were bribes and extortion for his help with a variety of issues ranging from the placement of traffic lights to land acquisition and energy efficiency requirements.

Defense attorneys opened the questioning of Maloney by asking him to describe the legislature’s tradition of citizen legislators who work part time as lawmakers. Maloney then testified that Currie asked him for advice on the consulting offer from the chain, which offered to pay him $5,000 a month.

Earlier Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett denied several motions for acquittal from the defense, which argued the prosecution did not prove their case that Currie sold his office.

Other witnesses called by the defense were a Shopper Food executive, an ethics attorney for the General Assembly and a former employee in Currie’s office. The employee, Carol Ann Hecht, said one of her main duties was organizing Currie’s schedule and she painted a picture of a disorganized office where she struggled to help the lawmaker keep track of a busy schedule.

“It was a challenge keeping him organized,” Hecht testified.

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