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Jury begins deliberations in Maryland robocall case

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An attorney for Paul E. Schurick, the 2010 campaign manager for former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), acknowledged Monday that an election night robocall authorized by his client might now seem a “stupid” political move but argued that it did not amount to a crime.

A. Dwight Pettit’s assessment came in closing arguments to a Baltimore jury that later started weighing whether Schurick is guilty of four election-law crimes intended to suppress African American turnout and help Ehrlich’s chances.

State prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt told the jury that Schurick should not get a pass because the tactic was ineffective and argued that the defense’s contention that the call was meant to motivate Ehrlich voters was “ridiculous.”

The call, which went to 112,000 people in the majority-African American jurisdictions of Baltimore and Prince George’s County before the polls closed, told voters that they could “relax” because the objectives of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had been met.

Jurors broke Monday about three hours after getting the case. They are scheduled to resume deliberations Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that Schurick conspired with Julius Henson, a campaign consultant, to commit fraud and deliberately conceal the fact that the Ehrlich campaign was behind the anonymous call. Henson is scheduled to stand trial separately in February.

Pettit argued that Schurick largely deferred to Henson on the call, which Pettit said was designed to use “reverse psychology” to inspire voters leaning toward Ehrlich to vote. Henson had been hired to build African American support for Ehrlich, Pettit said.

“Maybe it was stupid,” Pettit said of the robocall. “Maybe it was a bad decision. Maybe [Schurick] shouldn’t have listened to his consultant.”

But, Pettit said, Schurick deferred to Henson’s “political judgment” and never intended to suppress the vote.

Echoing his opening statement a week earlier, Davitt urged jurors to use their “common sense” and not be diverted by issues not central to the case.

“The defendant committed a crime when he authorized this call,” Davitt said.

Davitt displayed the text of the call and played it for jurors during his closing argument. “This is what the case is about,” he said.

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