The first witness called Monday by Maryland Sen. Ulysses S. Currie’s defense team tangled with a federal prosecutor in court over the intelligence level of the 74-year-old lawmaker.

Timothy F. Maloney, a lawyer and former state delegate, was called to testify at Currie’s bribery trial about a proposal he drafted in 2002 for the Prince George’s County Democrat to serve as a consultant for Shoppers Food Warehouse. Federal prosecutors have alleged that the consulting arrangement became a guise for a bribery scheme that lasted more than five years.

Maloney said that after meeting with Currie in late December 2002, he typed the letter because, if Currie had done it himself, “it would be so garbled up, they wouldn’t know what he was talking about.”

Maloney, who described himself as “a friend” to Currie, said that Currie was well-respected in the legislature for his ability to bring people together and for being nice. But Maloney characterized Currie’s memory and communications skills as “not good.”

“No one would call him smart,” Maloney said.

Leo J. Wise, an assistant U.S. attorney, aggressively questioned Maloney’s characterization, pointing to Currie’s background as a teacher and principal.

“Did he get dumb when he went to the legislature?” Wise demanded.
An objection to the question by Currie's lawyers was sustained by the judge.

Maloney did not back off his assessment after Wise cited a number of leadership positions that Currie has held in the legislature, including chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

“He's just not very astute when it comes to the mechanics of legislating,” Maloney said. “I think most legislators would tell you the same thing. . . . It hurts me to say that, because he’s a wonderful, wonderful person.”

Maloney’s testimony comes as Currie’s defense team is working to paint a fuller portrait of the senator for the jury during a trial now in its fourth week. The prosecution rested its case Monday morning.

Prosecutors allege that Currie used his office to do a series of favors for the grocery chain, including intervening with high-ranking state officials on development deals and traffic light requests supported by Shoppers. Currie was paid more than $245,000 over a period of more than five years and did not disclose the income on state ethics forms.

Currie’s defense has acknowledged that the lawmaker made some mistakes that amounted to an “undisclosed conflict of interest,” but has argued that he was not taking bribes.

Maloney said his assistance to Currie did not extend beyond drafting the initial proposal for Shoppers, which said that Currie could not represent the chain in front of the legislature or local elected officials because of his position in the Senate.

After Maloney, the defense called Carol Ann Hecht, a former employee of Currie’s Senate office. She characterized the office as a “messy environment,” saying Currie was often disorganized.