Updated: 11:20 a.m.
Paul E. Schurick, who managed the gubernatorial campaign of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), and also work for years for top Maryland Democrats, was sentenced Thursday to 30 days home detention, 4 years probation, and 500 hours of community service for ordering a 2010 Election Day robocall that prosecutors said was intended to suppress black voter turnout.
Schurick could have received up to 12 years in prison.
Scores of letters from prominent Republicans and Democrats asked a Baltimore judge for extreme leniency for one of the most well-known figures in Maryland politics.
Ehrlich, his entire former senior staff and former lieutenant governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele are among the more than 100 people who have written to Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, an appointee of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), on Schurick’s behalf.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, State Comptroller and expected 2014 gubernatorial hopeful Peter Franchot, former governor Marvin Mandel and recent Maryland Democratic party officials also wrote on Schurick’s behalf.
In court, Schurick acknowledged authorizing an automated call to voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, the state’s two largest African American-majority jurisdictions. With the polls still open, recipients were told by an unidentified woman that they could “relax” because O’Malley (D) had been successful. Schurick testified that he had been unaware of the exact message before the calls were ordered by a campaign consultant.
In his letter to the court, Franchot wrote that while voter suppression is “morally and legally unacceptable,” Schurick’s legacy in Annapolis is foremost that of a bipartisan solution seeker.
“Notwithstanding the occurrences for which he has been tried and convicted, I regard Paul Schurick as an accomplished professional, a loyal friend and a fiercely devoted husband and father,” Franchot wrote. “He is a good man who is respected by those on both sides of the partisan divide, and deeply admired by those who have had the pleasure to work with him through the years.”
Similar sentiments ran through dozens of letters. Ehrlich, in his plea to the judge, cast Schurick’s actions as an understandable mistake:
“The facts herein are not particularly complicated: a mistake was made in the heat of a high stakes, tension filled day – a day full of difficult decisions made on the run,” Ehrlich wrote. “Indeed, modern technology has only heightened the split second, real time nature of these decisions – judgements that (unfortunately) do not carry a ‘reset’ button.”
Prosecutors have never suggested that Ehrlich approved the calls. But the case nevertheless has served as a major embarrassment for Ehrlich, the state’s only Republican governor in a generation. He is pushing a new book that draws anecdotes from his four years in Annapolis and contends his failed comeback bid in 2010 was “swamped” by the black vote.
The jury convicted Schurick of trying to influence votes through fraud, failing to identify the source of the call as required by law and two counts of conspiracy to commit those crimes.
Schurick’s defense argued during a week-long trial late last year that he relied on the judgment of a campaign consultant hired to reach out to black voters, who said the calls would make use of “reverse psychology” and motivate potential Ehrlich supporters to go to the polls in the election’s final hours.
The consultant, Julius Henson, is scheduled to stand trial next week.
Schurick’s defense team has also filed a motion for a new trial, saying Fletcher-Hill erred in letting the prosecution speak about voter suppression and gave confusing and misleading instructions to the jury about defining fraud.
His defense team also says the state failed to reveal a potential witness in the case – a man who was with the woman who placed the robocalls on Henson’s behalf and who may have cast doubt on her testimony.