Ehrlich aides indicted in Election Day robocalls case
//UPDATED WITH DETAILS FROM INDICTMENTS//
By Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz
Two longtime political operatives who worked last year on Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s gubernatorial return campaign were indicted today for ordering what the state prosecutor called deceptive robocalls intended to suppress votes on the night of the election.
Julius Henson and Paul Schurick each face three counts of conspiracy to violate Maryland election laws, one count of attempting to influence a voter's decision and one count of failing to provide an authority line (on campaign material). Schurick also is charged with one count of obstruction of justice.
Read the indictments here.
Edward Smith, Jr., Henson's attorney, said his client will plead not guilty. Peter Zeidman, an attorney for Schurick, said the charges are "based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts."
"When the truth comes out," Zeidman said, it will be clear that Schurick "did not violate any laws."
An arraignment in Baltimore Circuit Court is scheduled for July 18.
The former governor was not accused of wrongdoing. He released this statement: "I believe in the rule of law. I believe in my friend and colleague, Paul Schurick. I hope a fair resolution is reached as quickly as possible for both Paul and Mr. Henson."
The indictment, handed up by a Baltimore City grand jury, came after an eight-month investigation by State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt into tens of thousands of robocalls that went out late on Election Day. A caller instructed voters in Democratic areas to stay home and “relax” because Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had already won. In fact, the polls were still open. (Full recording after the jump.)
Henson, who'd worked mostly with Baltimore and Prince George's County Democrats before joining Ehrlich's team, acknowledged orchestrating the calls. He was paid $111,000 by the Ehrlich campaign for “community outreach.”
He told The Sun the calls were “counter-intuitive” and were intended to encourage supporters to vote. Schurick was Ehrlich's communications director when he was governor and was his top campaign aide last year.
The indictment describes a document titled "The Schurick Doctrine" and says that it was "designed to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats."
The indictment quotes from the document: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression."
Ehrlich testified before the grand jury earlier this month. Greg Massoni, another longtime Ehrlich aide, also appeared in before the grand jurors. Massoni and Ehrlich are working for the Washington office of law firm King & Spalding. It's unclear what Schurick is now doing. (Update: Schurick's attorney said his client is working as a consultant.)
Massoni is named in the indictment, along with Henry Fawell, Ehrlich's campaign communications director and Bernard Marczyk, the campaign's political director. Henson met with the men in summer 2010 and outlined a voter suppression strategy in 472 precincts -- but at that time the campaign decided it would be too expensive, according to the indictment.
Henson and Universal Elections associate, Rhonda Russell, also face a multimillion-dollar federal civil complaint filed in November by Maryland Attorney Douglas F. Gansler. An attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division also is listed as a plaintiff in the case.
Gansler alleges that the robocalls were made with the intent to suppress and intimidate voters in predominately African-American Democratic neighborhoods. The attorney general says 112,000 such calls were made on election night, and if found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.
On May 25, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake denied Henson's motion to dismiss his civil case. The court is still entertaining a defense motion to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of any criminal cases. Defense attorney Edward Smith Jr. argued that the going to court in the civil case would violate the witnesses' right against self-incrimination.
Gansler's office, in a response to that motion filed June 2, argued that "defendants are asserting this privilege even though no criminal actions have commenced."
The recorded message, according to civil and criminal complaints: "Hello. I’m calling to let everyone know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took it back. We’re okay. Relax. Everything’s fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations, and thank you."