Reporting Derek Valcourt
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Grand jury indictments are handed up in the Election Day robocall controversy. The calls were made during last fall’s gubernatorial election. After an eight-month investigation, two political operatives for the Ehrlich campaign are now facing criminal charges.
Derek Valcourt has details on the indictments.
Political consultant Julius Henson and former Bob Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick are now criminally charged in connection with Election Day robocalls on behalf of the Ehrlich campaign.
The calls went to 112,000 registered voters in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County while the polls were still open.
“I’m calling to let everyone know that Governor O’ Malley and President Obama have been successful. We’re OK. Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight,” said the call.
In a WJZ interview that was later subpoenaed by the grand jury, Henson said his company Universal Elections authorized the calls in order to energize Ehrlich supporters.
“I’m on the Bob Ehrlich team. We thought a call like that would help, and we made the call,” said Henson.
He insisted former Governor Ehrlich had no knowledge of the robocalls. He acknowledged the calls should have included who was behind them but insists they were not intended to suppress votes.
“The law on voter fraud and voter suppression is clear, OK, it is in the statute,” Henson said. “And if you look at the statute and you look at the call, the wording of the call, there’s nothing in it that would suggest that. Nothing at all.”
But a grand jury disagreed, indicting Henson and Schurick on three counts of conspiracy to violate Maryland’s election laws, one count of attempting to suppress voter turnout, and one charge for failing to identify who was behind the robocall.
Schurick faces one additional charge of obstruction of justice.
“Even if they don’t wind up with jail time, they’re going to wind up with a criminal record assuming the prosecution can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said legal expert Byron Warnken.
If convicted on all counts, Henson faces up to 11 years in prison. Schurick faces up to 16 years in prison.
Attorney General Doug Gansler already filed a civil suit against Henson and his company, saying the robocalls he authorized violated the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act for failing to disclose who made the calls.
Political reporter Pat Warren has reaction from the candidates at the center of this campaign controversy.
Maryland voters were very much aware of the Ehrlich-O’Malley rematch, but they had no idea that the state would make a criminal case of the governor’s race.
Robocalls that essentially told voters to “Relax, the Democrats had the election in the bag,” have had shocking results for the orchestrators of the campaign.
“Julius Henson’s lawyer is going to argue it was free speech, and they weren’t doing anything coercive to these voters,” said Matthew Crenson, political analyst. “The other thing, somewhat surprising, is the indictment for Paul Schurick, who was Governor Ehrlich’s communications director for a long, long time.”
A swift, short reaction from Governor O’Malley’s office is this statement: “This is unfortunate. We are not going to comment further because this is an ongoing court matter and we will let justice run its course.”
Former Governor Ehrlich also issued a 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. “
“Whether this prosecution is going to have any impact on these types of routines is questionable,” Crenson said.
Democrats in Maryland have long protested what they consider deceptive voter practices.
For example, a flyer was distributed in primarily black neighborhoods during the 2002 campaign, warning voters to make sure they had no outstanding warrants, tickets or back child support payments or they’d be arrested at the polls. Congressman Elijah Cummings was also pictured in a flyer distributed by Democrats for Ehrlich, which Cummings considered an attempt to deceive voters into thinking that he supported the Republican candidate years ago.
The robocalls in the 2010 campaign lit a fire this time– long before the grand jury indictments.
“The stakes in winning an election, particularly a statewide election, are pretty high,” Crenson said. “People are willing to take some risks to win the prize.”
And in another statement, the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party says these types of campaign tactics and dirty tricks have no place in America.
Stay with WJZ.com for complete coverage of the robocall indictment.