A Baltimore grand jury on Thursday indicted Paul E. Schurick, formerly the communications director and a campaign aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., for helping to coordinate Election Day telephone calls that were allegedly intended to suppress Democratic voter turnout during Ehrlich’s unsuccessful run to reclaim the post last year.
The grand jury also indicted Julius Henson, a campaign consultant who allegedly coordinated the automated calls to 112,544 registered Democrats in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County telling them to “relax” because the Democrats had “been successful.”
Under the indictment handed up in Baltimore City Circuit Court, each man faces three counts of conspiracy, one count of attempting to influence votes through fraud and one count of failing to provide an authority line on distributed campaign material. Schurick also is accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly withholding documentation sought through a grand jury subpoena.
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said outside the grand jury room the investigation is ongoing but declined further comment. Schurick and Henson are scheduled to be arraigned July 18.
Schurick’s attorney, Peter R. Zeidenberg, said he would “vigorously contest” what he called the prosecutor’s “fundamental misunderstanding” of the facts.
“Mr. Schurick never conspired with anyone to suppress the votes of any Maryland voters, and he did nothing to obstruct this investigation,” Zeidenberg, of DLA Piper US LLP in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “On the contrary, from the beginning Mr. Schurick has wanted all of the relevant facts to become known, because he is convinced that when the truth comes out, it will be clear that he did not violate any laws.”
Zeidenberg was a prosecutor in the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section before joining DLA Piper in 2007. He served as deputy special counsel in the Lewis “Scooter” Libby prosecution and gave the government’s closing argument in that case, according to the firm’s website.
He is joined on the defense team by William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., who said he has “known and respected my good friend Paul Schurick” since Schurick served as chief of staff to then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
“I don’t believe him to be capable of doing these things,” said Murphy, of Murphy PA in Baltimore. “That’s not who he is.”
Ehrlich, an attorney now in private practice in Washington, struck a similar note.
“I believe in the rule of law. I believe in my friend and colleague, Paul Schurick,” Ehrlich said in a statement. “I hope a fair resolution is reached as quickly as possible for both Paul and Mr. Henson.” Ehrlich reportedly was called to testify before the grand jury but was not indicted.
Henson’s attorney also said he will strongly defend his client against the state’s charges.
“Now that they’ve done their job it remains for us to do ours,” Edward Smith Jr. said.
Smith, a Baltimore solo practitioner, said his job is “to defend, to make sure that justice is done and to generally follow the principles, as they have been established through the decades, for justice.”
Schurick, 54, served as Ehrlich’s communications director from 2004 to 2007 and worked with him as a consultant at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC in Baltimore before starting his own consultancy in June 2010. He faces a maximum of 26 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Henson, 62, faces a maximum of 21 years. He is a longtime political strategist more commonly associated with Democratic candidates, including former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who lost a gubernatorial race to Ehrlich in 2002, and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who won in 1996 with Henson’s help. He has said the robocalls were intended to spur Republicans to go to the polls.
According to the civil complaint, Schurick and Henson allegedly retained Robodial.org LLC, a Pennsylvania company that provides telephone broadcasting services, to send out the pre-recorded message to a specified list of telephone numbers.
The message said, “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 OK. Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations and thank you.”
The calls to 47,984 registered Democrats in Baltimore began at 5:54 p.m. and ended at about 7:42 p.m. on Nov. 2, Election Day, while the polls were still open, according to Thursday’s indictments.
Calls to 64,560 registered Democrats in Prince George’s County began at about 6 p.m. and ended at about 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, the indictments said.
Civil suit pending
Democrats had mixed reactions to the indictments.
“The indictments are disturbing, but this is an ongoing criminal case and we’ll reserve comment until the matter is resolved by the court,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley’s spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory.
But Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis decried the “dirty tricks” described in the indictment.
“Voter intimidation, voter suppression and voter deception are cancers that threaten our democracy, and they cannot be tolerated in our society,” Lewis said in a statement.
“I was a target of this reprehensible call and remain outraged by any action intended to disenfranchise voters and subvert our democratic process…,” she added. “[T]hese types of dirty tricks and deceitful campaign tactics have no place in America.”
Kimberly Jorns, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday afternoon.
The indictments follow a lawsuit Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler filed Nov. 10 against Henson and his company, Universal Elections Inc., as well as Rhonda Russell, an executive with the firm, for coordinating the allegedly illegal calls. The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Russell was previously the political director for Progressive Maryland, a liberal advocacy group. Neither she nor Robodial.org has been indicted.
Smith, who also represents Henson, the company and Russell in the civil case, asked the judge in May to stay that litigation, citing the existence of “at least two grand juries both convened by the state of Maryland and the United States.”
After the indictments were handed up Thursday, Smith said they create “a chilling effect on the civil case” as witnesses will presumably invoke their privilege against self incrimination when called to testify.
Gansler has opposed the stay request. Judge Catherine C. Blake, who is presiding over the lawsuit, has not yet ruled on the motion.
Daily Record business writer Nicholas Sohr contributed to this story.