A General Assembly committee charged with reviewing the behavior of state Sen. Ulysses Currie met briefly Thursday behind closed doors in what was described as an organizational session.
Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat recently acquitted of federal bribery charges, did not appear.
Del. Brian McHale, co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics, would not comment except to say the panel's initial meeting focused on organization and procedure.
"I'm not going to run the risk of violating what I'm required to protect," said McHale, a Baltimore city Democrat. McHale would not offer a time frame for the committee's work. "I expect this to be very deliberate," he said.
The panel can do its work in public if three-quarters of its members vote to do so, but that did not happen Thursday.
Common Cause has called on the committee to handle the case in public. "It is important for the public to see that the General Assembly takes ethics violations seriously," said Susan Wichmann, executive director.
Currie, the former chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, was charged federally with bribery and found not guilty in November. His defense attorneys acknowledged that Currie failed to list his employment with a supermarket company on his state ethics disclosure form — even as he sought assistance for the company from various state officials — but argued that the omission should be handled by General Assembly, not a federal court.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller asked that the ethics panel recommend whether the General Assembly should take any action. Options include rebuke, censure or expulsion. The panel could also find that Currie violated a Maryland law and refer the matter to the state prosecutor's office or another law enforcement agency.
Currie does not dispute that he worked as a consultant to Shoppers Food Warehouse, a company based in his county, from 2002 to 2008. He was paid $245,000 by the firm during that time but never disclosed the employment to the state as required. The disclosure forms are signed under oath.
The ethics committee met Thursday morning after the House and Senate adjourned for the day. As members arrived, Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden of Baltimore observed that there were more reporters than lawmakers. "We have a quorum of the press," he quipped. The committee is made up of six senators and six delegates.
The panel met in closed session for about 45 minutes. Lawmakers were less chatty when they left the meeting. Facing the same scrum of reporters, McFadden said, "No response!"
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican, said, "We are following the rule of law as proscribed, and we are not commenting on any proceedings."
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