The guilty verdict not only sullied the three-decade career of one of Maryland’s best-known political operatives, it also served as a major embarrassment for Ehrlich, the state’s only Republican governor in a generation.
Although prosecutors have never suggested that Ehrlich approved the calls, he is pushing a new book that draws anecdotes from his four years in Annapolis and contends his failed comeback bid last year was “swamped” by the black vote.
The jury convicted Schurick — who got his start in politics working for Democrats — 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 the week-long trial 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.
The consultant, Julius Henson, is scheduled to stand trial in February, about a week before Schurick’s sentencing is set.
Schurick, 55, declined to comment outside Baltimore City Circuit Court. His lead attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said he would appeal the case, arguing that a law used to convict Schurick amounts to an unconstitutional violation of free speech.
“This is just Round 1,” Pettit vowed to reporters.
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said he hopes Schurick’s conviction will send a message that political dirty tricks can be crimes.
“This wasn’t political speech,” said Davitt, who argued the case. “It was fraudulent.”
Davitt, who was appointed by O’Malley, also dismissed suggestions made by some Schurick sympathizers that the prosecution was politically motivated. Davitt noted that the case was initiated by his predecessor, an Ehrlich appointee.
Davitt declined to say what he would recommend as a sentence. Two of the four counts carry maximum sentences of five years. The other two carry up to a year.
Pettit indicated he would push for something far more lenient, citing a parade of witnesses — including Ehrlich, former governor Marvin Mandel (D) and former Republican National Committee chairman Michasel S. Steele — who testified to Schurick’s good character and distinguished career.
In his opening statement and closing argument, Davitt urged jurors to stay focused on the words used in the robocall, which he said was “the primary evidence” in the case. The calls began at 5:54 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2010, a little more than two hours before the polls closed, prosecutors said.