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Maryland Politics
Posted at 09:40 AM ET, 02/07/2012

Second robocall trial gets underway in Maryland


Julius Henson (Karl Merton Ferron - The Baltimore Sun)
The trial is underway of a controversial Maryland political consultant who allegedly designed an election night robocall that told African-American voters to “relax” and stay home, even though the polls were still open.

Julius Henson, 62, faces five counts of election law violations stemming from his alleged role in writing and ordering the automated call for the 2010 gubernatorial campaign of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R)

Paul E. Schurick, Ehrlich’s campaign manager who acknowledged authorizing the call, was convicted, in December, of four state election law violations stemming from the call. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

Prosecutors say the calls, which were placed to 112,000 voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, the state’s two largest majority-African-American jurisdictions, were intended to suppress the votes of blacks.

Recipients of the calls were told by an unidentified woman that they could “relax” because Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had been successful.

Schurick’s defense team unsuccessfully argued that the calls were intended to be counterintuitive and motivate Ehrlich supporters to go to the polls in the election’s waning hours.

On Monday, Henson’s attorney signaled another tack, arguing in pretrial motions that the calls amounted to “political free speech.”

Edward Smith Jr. argued that the case should be dismissed because the state law used to convict Schurick is too broad. Smith said robocalls should not be considered in the same class as literacy tests and other post Civil War era attempts to suppress the will of black voters.

Whether people who received the robocalls ultimately voted was “their responsibility” and “their decision to make,” Smith said.

Thomas ‘Mike’ McDonough, the deputy state prosecutor, disagreed with Smith’s assertion. McDonough was joined by State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, an O’Malley appointee.

Judge Emanuel Brown said he would rule Tuesday on Smith’s motions, meaning a jury could be seated as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Henson has long been a controversial figure in Maryland politics due to his frequent use of brash tactics. He helped a generation of black Democratic lawmakers get elected before becoming a political operative for an unlikely client, former Republican governor Ehrlich, during his 2010 rematch with O’Malley (D).

By Greg Masters  |  09:40 AM ET, 02/07/2012

 
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