November 9, 2011

Commentary: Currie verdict shows we reporters are wasting our time

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The not guilty verdict in the corruption trial of state Sen. Ulysses Currie clearly shows how we State House reporters have been wasting our time checking financial disclosure statements.

Dutifully – well, at least occasionally on a slow day — we would walk over to the 45 Calvert Street offices of the State Ethics Commission in Annapolis and ask to see the annual statements from elected and appointed officials.

To get the records, we’d hand over our driver’s license to be copied and pay 25 cents a page for documents that were often filed electronically, but not available over the Internet, the way they are in many states. Officials filling out the forms can ask to be notified when someone requests their financial disclosure forms. Some are notified by phone, I found out one day.

All of this is a waste of time. I did look at Currie’s forms some years, and would not have found anything. He never disclosed his long relationship with Shopper’s Food Warehouse, and his punishment for that has been absolutely nothing — except a year of embarrassment.

According to the many accounts we relayed in our daily State Roundup, many high placed friends and colleagues testified that Currie was a nice guy but disorganized. Not smart, but a coalition builder, a mentor and a friend.

That explains why he was never impressive on the Senate floor, inarticulate without a script. But that does not explain why he was corrupt.

A federal jury found him not guilty of a federal crime. I will not argue with folks who spent weeks judging this case at tremendous personal cost. Judge Richard Bennett gave them instructions for 90 minutes before they deliberated.

The federal public defenders did not argue with the facts of the case. Currie took a quarter million dollars to be a shill for a grocery chain, and he told no one about it – except, apparently, the IRS, confirming his incompetence.  On multiple occasions, Currie lobbied for his employer to get them special deals, traffic lights and road access.

To their credit, officials of the State Highway Administration and the Department of Transportation refused several times to cave under Currie’s blatant pressure.

The Baltimore Sun has an eloquent editorial  explaining why Currie should be expelled. It concludes:

“A jury has concluded that what he did does not amount to criminal activity — but it is still wrong. The public deserves a legislature that holds itself to a higher standard than legal guilt or innocence. If we are to have any confidence that Mr. Currie’s conduct is not standard operating procedure in Annapolis, the Senate must act swiftly and decisively, and nothing short of his removal from the legislature and an overhaul of ethics laws will do.”

Many legislators go to bat for constituents and businesses with state agencies. They see that as their proper role as elected representatives. But they do not get paid extra for this advocacy, and they shouldn’t.

If what Currie did is acceptable to the Senate, then the body accepts corruption. They should stop filing their useless financial disclosure forms, and their conflict of interest disclaimers.

The members of the Joint Ethics Committee have the whole trial record taken under oath in federal court. His expulsion may be too harsh for them to swallow. But if Currie’s behavior is acceptable, then the whole place is suspect.

–Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

  • Ditty

    The sleeze balls who supported him are also wrong.

  • Anonymous

    Never a waste of time to expose corruption, the only waste of time is trying to get MSM interested in thoroughly covering it!  The rot in our one party controlled legislature will almost insure that Currie will have his hands lightly slapped for a “breach” in ethics just to prove sincerity by our fearless leaders. It works in the halls of Congress, why not in Annapolis? And the talking heads wonder why voters are so cynical & want the whole bunch voted out?  We will know when Currie get his portrait hung somewhere in Annapolis, just like the beloved but tainted Charlie Rangle. Term limits are the only remedy to eradicate the quid pro quo.  

  • Ajfurth

    The defense team ends up using the amiable dunce defense in this case and the jury accepts it?  Even worse, the Senator must feel it preferable to be an incompetent idiot than to go to prison.  I suppose that the embarrasement that the President of the Senate, Mike Miller, must be feeling should be acute since he appointed this man to the Chairmanship of one of the most powerful commitees.

  • RG

    The change of elected officials is executed via vote, not via investigative reporting.  However, to persuade the voters, a year of embarrassment is often necessary.

    That is why your job is *not* a waste of time – it is vital.