Operative says robocalls protected by Constitution
Election Night robocalls that drew a federal civil complaint and the attention of Maryland’s state prosecutor in a criminal investigation are Constitutionally protected free speech, the lawyer for political operative Julius Henson says a motion to dismiss the case.
Henson, who worked for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at the time, has acknowledged ordering the calls, which told voters to “relax” because Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had “been successful” and that “the only thing left to do is watch it on TV tonight.”
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who filed the civil suit in November, alleges that the calls were made with the intent of suppressing and intimidating voters in predominantly African-American areas. Gansler’s civil complaint against Henson, his company Universal Elections and his employee Rhonda Russell seeks millions of dollars in fines.
Gansler said 112,000 calls went out that night before the polls closed, and if they are found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.
In a memorandum supporting the motion to dismiss, filed Tuesday in federal court, the attorney for the defendants, Edward Smith Jr., writes that nothing about the content of the calls was untrue and that the message, which “gave no command, inspired no fright,” is protected by the First Amendment.
O’Malley defeated Ehrlich by more than 14 percentage points.
“The damage promoted even to deceptive political speech is far greater than the evil that it seeks to prevent,” Smith writes about the civil complaint against his clients. An earlier motion to dismiss the case claims the federal court lacks jurisdiction and cites other technical issues.
Gansler had not reviewed the latest motion, his spokeswoman said Wednesday. Smith could not be reached for comment.