State Senate votes to censure Currie

The Maryland Senate voted unanimously Friday to censure Sen. Ulysses Currie for numerous violations of ethics laws stemming from his failure to disclose that he was being paid by a grocery chain when he sought help for the company from state agencies.

Currie, once a powerful committee chairman, apologized to the Senate for his conduct — then voted along with his 46 colleagues for the resolution of censure.

"I'm a person with flaws, and I do have weaknesses," he said.

Choking up toward the end of his statement, the Prince George's Democrat thanked senators for their support over the past five years, during which he was the subject of a federal investigation, an indictment and a trial in which he was acquitted of bribery and extortion charges.

"I have become a stronger person and hopefully a better person," said Currie, 74, who stepped down as chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee after being indicted.

The General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics found that Currie broke the law by failing to disclose that he was being paid nearly $250,000 by Shoppers Food Warehouse to represent the grocery chain before state agencies.

The panel also found that he voted on legislation in which he had a conflict of interest, abused the prestige of his office and acted as an unregistered lobbyist, among other violations.

The ethics panel recommended that Currie be censured — the strongest sanction the Senate can impose short of expulsion — and that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller strip him of all committee positions except his membership on the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Currie is the first senator to be disciplined since former Baltimore Sen. Larry Young was expelled in 1998 for using his office for personal gain.

After Friday's censure vote, Miller described the sanction as "very harsh and very severe" but approved the outcome.

"It's a good day for the Senate. It's a sad day, but it's good in that the Senate is able to govern itself," Miller said.

The Senate president said he might not accept all of the committee's recommendations. For instance, the panel recommended that Currie be permanently barred from serving on conference committees — the small groups of senators appointed to work out differences with the House of Delegates on individual bills.

Miller, a Democrat who represents Calvert and Prince George's counties, said he would still name Currie to conference committees on matters in which the senator had expertise. The Senate president said he hadn't made up his mind on whether Currie would keep his posts on other committees.

Currie underscored his contrition before the session, when he moved around the Senate floor, shaking the hands of members of the ethics panel.

The panel's report was delivered by Currie's seatmate, Democratic Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. of Baltimore County, the dean of the General Assembly, who is marking his 50th year at the State House.

Stone enumerated Currie's violations: filing inaccurate and incomplete financial disclosure forms from 2003 to 2007; failing to disclose conflicts of interest created by his work for Shoppers; voting on legislation on which he had a conflict; abusing the prestige of his office; and improperly representing the company before state and local agencies. Among the panel's recommendations was that Miller ask Currie to apologize.

Currie did that, telling senators he never intended to bring dishonor to the Senate, himself or his wife, who prepared his disclosure forms.

"I promise I will never do so again," he said.

After the Senate adjourned, Currie did not reply to a reporter's questions. He walked into a Senate staff member's office and shut the door.

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