A lawyer for political operative Julius Henson is seeking to halt a civil suit stemming from tens of thousands of anonymous election-night robocalls in Maryland — a sign that criminal probes into the matter are continuing.
In a legal motion filed Wednesday, Henson’s lawyer, Edward Smith Jr., asks for as stay in the suit filed in federal court by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Gansler is seeking civil penalties for more than 112,000 robocalls, many of them placed to Democrats in Prince George’s County and Baltimore, before the polls closed Nov. 2.
Recipients were told they could “relax” because Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had already been “successful.” Henson was being paid by O’Malley’s opponent, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), whose campaign initially denied any involvement.
Smith’s motion says that his client is aware of two grand juries convened by state and federal prosecutors that are looking into the episode and says that some witnesses in the civil case could risk self-incrimination in the criminal probes.
The motion does not say who those witnesses are, but notes that members of Ehrlich’s campaign staff, among others, could be called to testify in the civil matter.
“The use of witnesses who are/may be indicted by government action both at that federal and state level triggers substantial Fifth Amendment issues,” Smith’s motion says.
The Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor, which has jurisdiction over criminal election-law violations, has reportedly interviewed people involved in the incident. Member of Maryland’s congressional delegation have also asked the U.S. Justice Department to explore whether criminal wrongdoing took place.
Ehrlich has said he was not personally aware of the calls and does not believe robocalls are effective.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gansler, said he will oppose Smith’s motion to halt the civil proceedings.
Gansler argues that the more than 112,000 calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and that each call carries a potential penalty of $500. Gansler said the violations were knowing and willful, and he has asked the U.S District Court for the District of Maryland to triple the damages.
Henson’s lawyer has said the calls were protected free speech.