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2 Ehrlich political operatives plead not guilty

Two political operatives for former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of using robocalls on Election Day to encourage voters in two jurisdictions with large numbers of black voters to stay home.

Paul Schurick, 55, and Julius Henson, 62, appeared in Baltimore Circuit Court. They entered the pleas through their attorneys. Baltimore Circuit Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill set a Sept. 22 trial date.

Edward Smith Jr., an attorney for Henson, and A. Dwight Pettit, who is representing Schurick, requested a jury trial for their clients.

Schurick and Henson are charged with three counts of conspiracy to violate state election laws. They also are charged with one count of attempting to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls through the use of fraud and one count of failing to provide an authority line on distributed campaign material. Schurick faces an additional charge of obstruction of justice for allegedly withholding documentation sought through a grand jury subpoena.

The authority line violations carry a maximum of a year in prison if convicted. The other charges carry up to five years in prison for each count if convicted.

Henson has acknowledged responsibility for the calls, but he has said they were not meant to suppress the vote. Henson has said he did not believe they were illegal.

The robocalls sent before the polls had closed told supporters of incumbent Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and President Barack Obama to relax, because they already had won.

“Our goals have been met,” the call said. “The polls were correct, and we took it back. We’re OK. Relax. Everything’s fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations, and thank you.”

The calls went out to more than 110,000 Democratic voters in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County, according to the indictment.

Henson, who was hired by Ehrlich’s campaign as a political consultant, and Schurick, a longtime aid to the former governor, were indicted last month by a Baltimore grand jury in a case that is being handled by the state prosecutor’s office.

The indictment alleges that Henson had discussions with Schurick and other representatives with the Ehrlich campaign about election strategy relating to African-American communities in the state. The discussions resulted in a prepared written strategy, according to the indictment.

“The plan centered on what was termed ‘The Schurick Doctrine’ which was ‘… designed to promote confusion, emotionalism and frustration among African American Democrats, focused in precincts where high concentrations of AA vote’ (sic),” according to the indictment.

The indictment also said the plan’s “first and most desired outcome” is voter suppression.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler has filed a separate federal civil lawsuit against Henson and an employee at his company seeking millions of dollars in fines for the calls.