The Washington Post

Robocalls case goes to jury

Paul E. Schurick outside a Baltimore courthouse. (Baltimore Sun)

Update, 4 p.m., Dec. 5: The jury has requested clarification from the judge on the difference between two counts: fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. Deliberations are resuming.

Update, 1:30 p.m., Dec. 5: The case has been sent to the jury after lawyers from both sides gave closing arguments.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt argued that Paul Schurick’s contention that the robocalls would prompt Ehrlich voters to go to the polls was “ridiculous” and that Schurick committed crimes when he authorized the call.

Schurick’s lawyer, A. Dwight Pettit, said Schurick relied on the advice of consultant Julius Henson, who he said made a judgment that might have been questionable politically but did not amount to a crime by Schurick.

Original post: A case alleging that the 2010 campaign manager for former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrich Jr. (R) sought to suppress the African American vote in Maryland with tens of thousands of election night robocalls is expected to go to the jury Monday.

Paul E. Schurick, a longtime Ehrlich aide, testified in his own defense Friday in Baltimore City Circuit Court that he approved a transcript of automated calls placed to about 110,000 Democratic voters but that he had no intention of trying to suppress black turnout.

Schurick said he accepted the rationale of Julius Henson, an outside consultant hired by Ehrlich’s campaign, that the calls were meant to be “counterintuitive” and motivate potential Ehrlich supporters to get to the polls in the waning hours of Election Day.

The anonymous calls, placed primarily to voters in Prince George’s County and Baltimore, assured recipients that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had been “successful” and that they could “relax.” Henson is scheduled to stand trial separately in February.

Schurick also testified Friday that he did not order Henson to deploy the call without a requisite “authority” line that would make clear Ehrlich’s campaign had paid for the message.

In four days of testimony last week, prosecutors sought to establish that Schurick was chiefly responsible for the robocalls, and that the intent of the calls was to keep black voters from heading to the polls.

In court, the state prosecutor’s office dissected dozens of phone calls and e-mails between Schurick and other members of Ehrlich’s campaign staff, as well as Henson, to argue that Schurick had conspired to arrange the calls and that his motives were criminal.

Prosecutors also focused on a document that Henson presented to Schurick and other senior members of the campaign just over three months before the election that laid out a proposal to “suppress” black voter turnout.

Both sides are scheduled to present closing arguments Monday before the jury starts weighing the case.

Two of the charges in a six-count indictment against Schurick were thrown out during the course of the trial. But the remaining alleged violations of election law carry potential prison sentences.

A parade of character witnesses have testified on Schurick’s behalf, including Ehrlich, former governor Marvin Mandel (D) and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, who served as Ehrlich’s lieutenant governor.

They suggested that Schurick’s alleged behavior was at odds with his history of being ethical and honest in his years working for both Republican and Democratic politicians.

Schurick, 55, was an influential, battle-scarred player in Maryland politics long before his association with Ehrlich.

He got his start in the 1980s as an aide to one of the state’s legendary Democrats, William Donald Schaefer, serving in his mayoral administration in Baltimore and later rising to be Schaefer’s chief of staff when he was governor.

Schurick also worked in the mid-1990s with then-House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, a Democrat from Western Maryland, before aligning with Ehrlich, a congressman from Baltimore County at the time.

Schurick would go on to play prominent roles in both Ehrlich’s 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial campaigns, while serving as his communications director during Ehrlich’s four-year tenure in Annapolis.

Whatever the legal implications of the tactic, the robocalls could not have had much impact on the outcome of the race, given that O’Malley won by 268,642 votes — a margin of more than 14 percentage points.

The timing of the trial has been awkward for Ehrlich, who has been on a media tour pushing “Turn This Car Around,” a book that draws anecdotal material from his time in Annapolis and other parts of his political career.

In the book, Ehrlich writes that his failed 2010 comeback bid was “swamped” by a large turnout of African American voters, many of them angry at the tea party and eager to “protect” President Obama. In an interview last week, Ehrlich said he did not mean to convey that that was the only factor that led to his loss.

This post has been updated since it was first published.



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