The Washington Post

Judge: Md. political consultant Julius Henson violated probation by running for office

Julius Henson was the architect of robo calls in the 2010 Maryland governor’s race that attempted to suppress black turnout on election day. (Andre Chung/For The Washington Post)

Julius Henson, the Maryland political consultant known for his brash and divisive tactics, added to his reputation Thursday when he promised to keep running for office despite a judge’s ruling that he had violated his probation by becoming a candidate.

Henson was sentenced to four months in prison and his probation was terminated. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Emanuel Brown suspended the prison sentence while the consultant decides whether to appeal.

Henson, 64, vowed not only to appeal but also to press on with his campaign to “retire” Nathaniel J. McFadden (D), who has served in the state Senate for 18 years and whose district encompasses poor and working-class neighborhoods in East Baltimore. Henson also said that he would return to political consulting, the lucrative business he was forced to give up two years ago after his conviction for election fraud.

“I think I can do both,” said a beaming Henson, wearing his trademark three-piece suit and ponytailed dreadlocks as he left a downtown Baltimore courthouse, followed by his attorney and more than a dozen supporters.

Prosecutors accused Henson of seeking to suppress turnout among African Americans during the 2010 governor’s race when he worked as a strategist for the campaign of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Henson wrote the script for an automated phone call that was aimed at black households in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. Launched in the early evening before polls closed on election night, the robo-call featured an unidentified woman encouraging voters to “relax” because Gov. Martin O’Malley was winning the race.

Paul Schurick, Ehrlich’s campaign manager, was convicted of election fraud as a result of the case.

Henson was charged with failing to identify the Ehrlich campaign as responsible for the robocall. A judge sentenced him to 60 days in prison and banned him from working “in any political campaign” during a three-year probation. In a separate case, a civil suit brought by state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a federal court judge ordered Henson to pay a $1 million fine.

Unable to work as a consultant, Henson decided to challenge McFadden in the June Democratic primary, portraying the senator as an in­effective leader for East Baltimore.

Henson’s candidacy has attracted attention from Maryland’s senior Democrats, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert), a McFadden ally. Miller has said the choice between McFadden, a former teacher, and Henson, whom he described as “recently incarcerated,” is a “no-brainer.”

Over the years, Henson built a reputation as a political “warrior,” as he likes to refer to himself, willing to use indelicate language to brand foes. Before joining Ehrlich’s campaign as a strategist, he had once referred to the former governor as a “Nazi.”

Henson’s past clients include former governor Parris N. Glendening (D), Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D), former representative Albert R. Wynn (D) — and McFadden.

At Thursday’s hearing, Emmet Davitt, Maryland’s special prosecutor, argued that the language of Henson’s probation order — barring him from working on campaigns “in any capacity” — made his candidacy a violation.

But Henson’s attorney, Russell Neverdon, countered that the order was limited to campaign work and did not preclude Henson from becoming a candidate.

The judge disagreed, saying the wording of what his order banned “is sufficiently broad” to include running for office. Brown described himself as “baffled” that Henson could have interpreted the probation’s terms to mean “I can elevate myself and be a candidate.”

“How do you do that?” the judge asked before adding that Henson had “used up the grace of the court.”

The judge imposed the four-month sentence, pending the appeal, and sent Henson on his way. Yet, the expression on Henson’s face — a big smile — suggested that the threat of jail was the least of his concerns at that moment. He had a campaign to get back to.

“Wow,” he said as he walked towards the exit.

Paul Schwartzman specializes in political profiles and narratives about life, death and everything in between.

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