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FBI Testing Atty-Client Privilege In Maryland Probe

The FBI is stepping into some unchartered territory in the probe into a state senator. Attorneys are up in arms over what the FBI is seeking.

Sen. Ulysses Currie/senate photo

Sen. Ulysses Currie/senate photo

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
As part of an ongoing probe of Sen. Ulysses Currie, federal prosecutors are seeking to force the lawyer who gives ethics advice to the Maryland General Assembly to testify before a grand jury, a move that state lawyers have vigorously resisted as a breach of attorney-client privilege.
A subpoena served on William G. Somerville, the legislature’s ethics counsel, sought testimony and “any and all” documents related to paid consulting work performed for a grocery chain by Currie, a powerful Prince George’s County Democrat.
Somerville’s job, which the legislature created as part of a 1999 ethics reform package, requires him to provide private counsel to legislators on potential conflicts of interest arising from their outside business dealings. The position is considered unique among state legislatures.
Currie’s work for Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, which was not disclosed in ethics filings, is the focus on an investigation that became public in May when FBI agents raided Currie’s home and the company’s Lanham headquarters.
In a letter to federal prosecutors, state lawyers representing Somerville wrote in July that he declined to testify because his conversations with Currie, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, are considered privileged under Maryland law.
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