Committee opening investigation of Curran's business practices Joint ethics panel is expected to bring in outside attorney for help

February 12, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The General Assembly's ethics committee meets today to begin an investigation into possible ethics violations by Del. Gerald J. Curran, the second major inquiry the panel has undertaken in the past two months.

The 12-member panel is expected to meet privately to outline the scope of its investigation, draft a letter informing Curran of potential violations of state ethics laws and decide whether to hire an independent counsel to guide the inquiry.

The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics is leaning toward bringing in an outside attorney, just as it it did in the recently concluded investigation of former Sen. Larry Young, lawmakers said yesterday.

If so, the committee would "probably" turn to Baltimore attorney Jervis S. Finney, who also handled the Young matter, said the committee co-chairman, Sen. Michael J. Collins.

Finney, a former federal prosecutor and legislator, has said he would be interested, Collins said.

Committee members said they are aware that legislators and others will be watching intently to make sure the Curran investigation is conducted under the same standards used in the Young case.

"This investigation is totally independent of the last one," Collins said.

"But at the same time, I don't want people who are looking at us to criticize us for doing too much or too little.

"I don't want any of those people to say we didn't do it right."

An independent counsel is needed, Collins and others said, in part because of the accelerated schedule for the investigation set by the General Assembly's presiding officers, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Taylor and Miller hope the committee can resolve the Curran matter by March 2 and avoid having it overshadow much more of the Assembly's annual 90-day session, which concludes April 6.

The panel is expected to consider issues raised in articles this week in The Sun that detailed how Curran has developed potentially lucrative insurance arrangements with state offices or private enterprises that have issues pending before the committee he has headed.

Curran collects commissions, for example, on insurance arrangements with the state university system and with the University of Maryland Medical System, which is a private operation but receives state funds.

Curran has denied doing anything improper.

The investigation will be conducted behind closed doors, as the Young inquiry was, Collins said, unless Curran asks that it be opened to the public.

The committee, should it conclude that Curran acted improperly, could recommend a punishment up to and including expulsion.

Such a punishment would have to be imposed by the full 141-member House of Delegates, a body in which Curran has served since 1967.

Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, temporarily stepped down this week as head of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee while the ethics investigation is proceeding.

Yesterday morning, Curran, 58, appeared briefly in the State House but left to go to an Annapolis hospital complaining of a rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure.

Curran left the hospital a few hours later, Taylor said.

Under the Assembly's rules, a delegate and senator rotate annually as presiding chairman of the joint ethics committee.

It is the Senate's turn to preside, meaning Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat, will run the Curran inquiry.

Asked about the Curran matter at a news conference yesterday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the specifics of the case while it is being investigated.

But, he said: "I think it is essential that everyone understands the citizens of this state expect the highest standards of behavior and that the code of ethics be enforced uniformly and fairly across the state."

Pub Date: 2/12/98

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