BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A jury has overturned the convictions of two political consultants who were found guilty earlier this year of violating state election laws.
Stephen Waters and Dennis Fusaro both got 30 days in jail for in February for allegedly sending out a robocall that went to 5,000 homes in a conservative district.
They appealed to Circuit Court for a jury trial.
Fusaro was the former campaign manager for Republican Councilman Michael Peroutka and Waters was a political consultant from Virginia who also worked on Peroutka’s campaign.
“We need the right to be able to send out e-mails and robocalls, and whatever we want anonymously,” said the defendant’s attorney John Garza. “And that’s what the jury found. I’m very happy with that.”
It all started back in 2014 when Patrick Armstrong squared off against Peroutka for an Anne Arundel County Council seat. It was a typical race until the robocall came into play.
The call was in reference to Armstrong and said “Call Patrick today and thank him for his bravery in coming out of the closet. Transgenders can now openly and freely go into any bathroom of their choice.”
Armstrong ran as an openly gay man, but the call linked him to supporting so-called “Bathroom Bans.”
The call claimed it was “Paid for and authorized by Marylanders for Transgenders.”
“There is no such organization, and we thought it was deceptive,” said prosecutor Emmet Davitt. “It was a deception to prevent people from knowing where the actual call came from.”
But the defense argued the robocall was – even if anonymous – protected by the First Amendment.
“To try and suppress free speech. So they do have an agenda,” said Fusaro. “And someone needs to shut this office down, and Mr. Davitt needs to be fired.”
A point Fusaro made personally to the prosecutor after being found not guilty.
“…the law requires candidates to do that so the public knows who’s paying for what,” says former State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.
Many considered the call an attempt to smear the openly gay candidate. Republican Michael Peroutka eventually went on to win the race.