Ministers, co-workers testify in Schurick robocall case

Ministers, a firefighter and state officials who have worked with Paul Schurick for decades took the stand Friday to testify about the character of the former aide accused of trying to suppress the black vote during the 2010 Maryland gubernatorial election.

Prosecutors say Schurick, a longtime aide to former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, approved pre-recorded, automated telephone calls sent late in the afternoon on Election Day to about 110,000 Democratic voters in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County. The calls assured voters Gov. Martin O’Malley had already won.

The character witnesses include the Rev. John Heath, who worked on Ehrlich’s 2002 campaign. Heath told the jury that suppressing turnout was never discussed during that election and the campaign worked to earn the black vote.

“No, quite to the contrary,” Heath testified, saying the goal was always “to work with the community and earn that vote.”

Heath’s testimony was one of the few that prompted cross examination from the prosecution. State prosecutor Emmet Davitt asked Heath how he would have responded to a request to suppress turnout.

“I don’t think that would have happened,” Heath said, prompting Davitt to ask again how he would have responded.

Heath said he certainly would have discussed it with Schurick, but “I would not think that was something that would work.”

Jurors also heard from the minister of Schurick’s church, a Montgomery County assistant fire chief, and state officials and others who have worked with Schurick for decades. All described him as a man of honesty and integrity.

Lainy LeBow-Sachs, the executive director of the Kennedy-Krieger Institute, said she worked with Schurick when both worked under former Baltimore mayor and governor William Donald Schaefer.

“He’s honest as the day is long,” LeBow-Sachs said, prompting an objection from the prosecution when she added that if Schaefer was still alive he would say the same.

“There is just nothing wrong with Paul Schurick, he’s one of my favorite people,” LeBow-Sachs said.

Before testimony began, the judge asked Schurick’s attorneys to advise him he had the right to testify if he wanted, but the defense did not indicate whether he would take the stand.

On Thursday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill dismissed an obstruction of justice charge against Schurick, but denied defense requests to throw out other charges in the case.

Prosecutors have argued the calls were an effort by the Republican campaign to reduce the number of black Democrats voting in heavily Democratic Maryland. Witnesses called by the defense have testified it was actually intended to stimulate people to vote for Ehrlich by using reverse psychology.

“Hello. I’m calling to let everybody know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful,” the call said. “Our goals have been met. 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.”

Schurick is charged with two counts of conspiracy to violate state election laws. Schurick also is 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. The authority line violation carries a maximum of a year in prison if convicted. The other charges carry up to five years in prison on each count if convicted.

Julius Henson, a political consultant, also is charged in the case. His trial is scheduled for February.