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Case against Henson proceeds in robocalls trial

Political advisor Julius Henson, on trial for his part in an election robocalling conspiracy, lost his bid to have the prosecution dismissed and key evidence thrown out but won the right to argue that the case against him is politically motivated.

Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas ‘Mike’ McDonough (left) and State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt leave the courthouse where jury selection began Monday in their case against Julius Henson.

Henson, 63, was charged last June with conspiring with Paul E. Schurick, former campaign manager for former Gov. Robert L Ehrlich Jr. in the 2010 gubernatorial race, to sabotage Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2010 reelection by suppressing the vote.

The pair allegedly orchestrated a telephone campaign aimed at registered Democrats, telling them to “relax,” stay home and watch their victory on television.

Henson faces two counts of conspiracy to violate election laws, one count of election fraud and one count of violating the authority line requirement. This case is thought to be the first time charges have been brought under a statute revised in 2006.

During pretrial motions in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Monday, Henson’s attorney Edward Smith Jr. argued that the wording of the law applies only to those who work directly for a campaign, like a manager or treasurer, and not to consultants like Henson.

Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt argued that the wording was meant to be applied broadly. He told Baltimore City Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown that the use of the word “person” in the statute was meant to be applied broadly.

“Your Honor, persons means persons,” Davitt said. “If we accept Mr. Smith’s argument, it would eliminate 90 percent of the laws out there that deal with persons.”

Brown agreed and denied the motion to dismiss.

The judge also denied a motion to prohibit prosecutors from mentioning the “Schurick Doctrine” in opening statements and during trial. Smith argued that the use of the term was prejudicial. State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt argued that it was only prejudicial because it is strong evidence of Henson’s intent to suppress voters.

However, the judge did rule against Davitt’s motion to prevent Smith from bringing up a political angle during opening statements.

Smith argued that his client, whose clients before Ehrlich were primarily Democratic candidates, was essentially being punished for switching sides and working for a Republican.

“It seems to me to be relevant and material whether this prosecution has been tainted by the body politic,” Smith said.

After the pretrial motions, both sides agreed on 15 questions for prospective jurors. Questions included existing knowledge of the case, feelings on race and the “dreadlock question,” which asked potential jurors if they had any strong feelings about people with dreadlock hairstyles.

Henson wore his dreadlocked hair in a ponytail on Monday.

The case is set to resume on Tuesday with opening statements in the case. The trial is expected to last eight days.

Schurick and Henson are alleged to have retained Pennsylvania-based Robodial.org LLC to place calls to more than 100,000 voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

“Hello. I’m calling to let everyone know that Gov. O’Malley and President Obama have been successful,” the message stated. “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.”

A city jury last November convicted Schurick of attempting to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of fraud; sending robocalls without an “authority line” to inform voters the calls were made at the Ehrlich campaign’s behest; and conspiracy.

He was sentenced to home detention and community service.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.