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Currie’s lawyers ask judge for ‘taint team’

Lawyers for State Sen. Ulysses Currie on Thursday asked a federal judge to order the government to establish a “taint team” to allow them to search the contents of nine Shoppers Food & Pharmacy computers the government obtained during its political corruption investigation.

The motion filed in U.S. District Court came after prosecutors refused to make a duplicate copy of the files for Currie’s defense team or to voluntarily appoint a taint team — that is, a separate group of government lawyers who would search the files for the defense without involving the prosecutors in any way.

“We cannot agree to that request,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin wrote to Currie’s federal public defenders, Joseph L. Evans and Lucius T. Outlaw III. The files were obtained under a search warrant that limits what the government itself can look at, she wrote.

Gavin did offer to carry out searches on the computers for the defense and relay the findings. Evans and Outlaw declined the offer, calling it a ploy to encumber Currie’s defense.

“The government’s suggested procedure is unsatisfactory because it would enable the government to track defense counsel’s investigative approach and even more, it could result in the defense unintentionally supplying the government with material that the government had previously overlooked,” Currie’s lawyers wrote in their motion to the court.

Currie, 73, was indicted last September on charges that he used his influence as a lawmaker to benefit Shoppers. He has pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors made mirror copies of the hard drives at Shoppers’ offices, which were searched during the investigation. Shoppers also does not want Currie to have a copy of the files since they contain proprietary information.

The defense claims not having access to the drives encroaches on Currie’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel and could violate a federal rule and case law that require the government to turn over any evidence favorable to their client.

Evans and Outlaw, along with counsel from Shoppers, suggested creating a taint team to handle their requests for searches on the computer drives.

The Department of Justice set up the procedure for establishing taint teams as a way to protect unrelated and privileged information from being reviewed. The team would be made up of other U.S. attorneys or agents not associated with the case. They would be barred from disclosing the search terms or their results to the prosecution.

Gavin, however, argued that the government’s disclosure obligations were fully met by providing the defense with the results of its own searches and its offer to conduct any searches the defense suggests, provide they are within the “parameters” of the warrant. Evans and Outlaw filed their motion Thursday in federal court in Greenbelt to force the creation of the team.

Neither they nor Gavin returned calls on Thursday afternoon.

Currie, a Democrat who represents Prince George’s County, faces charges of conspiracy, extortion, wire and mail fraud and making a false statement. No date has been set for his trial. Federal prosecutors have said previously that the trial could last from four to six weeks.