State Sen. Ulysses S. Currie’s bribery trial, which began Monday with the selection and swearing-in of a jury, may feature a “Who’s Who” of Maryland politics as he fights federal charges of accepting more than $245,000 for using his office to benefit Shoppers Food Warehouse Corp.
Judge Richard D. Bennett, who is presiding over the trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, dropped the names in questioning 74 prospective jurors Monday, asking if they knew any of the politicians personally.
The names included Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.; Lieut. Gov. Anthony Brown; U.S. Representatives Steny Hoyer and Elijah Cummings, both Maryland Democrats; Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s and Calvert; former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke; and state Sens. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery; Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore City; Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery; and Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.
Frosh, Gladden and Forehand, upon being told their names came up in court, said they have not been subpoenaed but would do so gladly for Currie, whom they described as a dear colleague and friend.
“If I’m called, I’ll be called by the defense as a character witness,” said Frosh, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “I’m certainly willing to do that. I just think very highly of Senator Currie.”
Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, voiced surprise that her name was mentioned in court.
“I’m probably going to be a witness for Currie, but I don’t have a subpoena,” she said.
She called Currie “a very nice guy. This is unfortunate.”
Forehand said she would testify “if they needed me” for the defense. “I just think he [Currie] is too smart to have done what they said he did.”
Lawyers for both sides were able to pick the jury in one day, even though several prospective jurors told the judge they or a close family member had worked in state government or had attended a fundraiser for one of the politicians.
Bennett swore in the 12 jurors (six men and six women; six white and six black) and four alternates (three women and one man, all white) before adjourning at about 5:15 p.m.
Bennett told the jurors they would not be sequestered; however, he admonished them not to speak with anyone about the trial. He also told them not to conduct their own Internet research, saying they would “absolutely taint the process” if they looked up witnesses on line or searched for them on social networking sites.
Opening arguments in the trial are slated to begin Tuesday morning at 10.
Currie, a Prince George’s Democrat, is standing trial on charges of bribery, conspiracy, extortion and making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Federal prosecutors allege that between December 2002 and March 2008, Currie used his office as senator to assist Shoppers in return for payments totaling $245,816.
His alleged crimes included helping to secure the state’s assistance in Shoppers’ rent payments for its Mondawmin Mall store in Baltimore; introducing and voting for legislation to help Shoppers get a beer and wine license; and assisting Shoppers’ outlets in getting rights of way from the state highway authority, according to the Sept. 1, 2010, indictment.
Currie counters, through his attorneys, that he never exploited his legislative position on behalf of Shoppers, for which he said he worked as a consultant when the General Assembly was not in session. Currie is being represented by Assistant Federal Public defenders Joseph L. Evans and Lucius T. Outlaw III.
On Friday, Evans told the court that health problems compromised Currie’s mental abilities when the FBI interviewed him in 2008, which could provide a defense to charges of giving a false statement to investigators.
The senator is standing trial with former Shoppers’ executives William J. White and R. Kevin Small., who are accused of bribing the lawmaker.
White, former president of Shoppers, is being represented by Joshua R. Treem and Kelly L. Swanston of Schulman, Treem & Gilden PA in Baltimore and Nicholas J. Vitek, a Baltimore solo practitioner.
Jonathan S. Zucker, a Washington, D.C., solo practitioner, is representing Small, who was Shoppers’ vice president for real estate development.
Currie won re-election to his fifth term in the Senate last fall, despite the cloud of a federal indictment. However, he stepped down as chairman of the influential Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, a position he held since 2002.
Currie served in the House of Delegates from 1987 to 1995, the year he joined the Senate.