Political consultant Julius Henson was sentenced to 60 days in prison Wednesday for his role in sending automated robocalls to curb Democrat voters from heading to the polls in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Emanuel Brown sentenced Henson to a year in prison with all but 60 days suspended. Brown also put Henson on three years’ probation and ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service over the next two years. During his probation, Henson is banned from working as a political consultant.
“It is clear to this court that you are oblivious of the magnitude of the crime you are convicted of,” Brown told Henson during the sentencing. “You’ve used your creative talents in a way that undermines the electoral process and disrespects the law.”
Henson, wearing a cream-colored three-piece suit, was led away in handcuffs after the sentencing.
“There is certainly a lot wrong with this political process and there is certainly a lot wrong with this judicial process,” Henson said in court before the sentencing.
Henson was convicted of one count of conspiracy by a Baltimore jury May 11 for his participation in the automated calls that went out to voters in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County on Election Day 2010, urging them to stay home and “relax” in the race between Gov. Martin O’Malley and his Republican opponent, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Henson, a consultant in Ehrlich’s campaign, faced a maximum of one year in prison or a $1,000 fine. In a separate civil case, Henson and his company, Universal Elections, were ordered by a federal judge May 29 to pay $1 million to the state for sending the recorded phone calls to more than 112,000 Democrat voters.
Ehrlich’s campaign manager, Paul E. Schurick, who is white, faced the same charges as Henson, who is black — two counts of conspiracy to violate election laws, one count of election fraud and one count of violating the authority line requirement.
Schurick was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 30 days of home detention, a one-year suspended jail sentence and 500 hours of community service last year. Schurick has said he intends to appeal.
Before Wednesday’s sentencing, Henson’s attorney, Edward Smith Jr., a solo practitioner, asked the judge to strike the guilty verdict for the one count of conspiracy to omit an authority line requirement. Smith said the decision was inconsistent because the jury acquitted Henson of omitting the source off the robocall.
“When you are in a straight jacket and can’t get out, the best thing to do is holler for help and help in this circumstance is to say not guilty,” Smith said.
Brown denied Smith’s motion after considering it, eyes closed, for a few minutes.
State prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt recommended unspecified, more serious charges for Henson Wednesday in light of an interview with CBS Baltimore Tuesday, in which Henson blamed Democrats for his plight and said the state went after him because he is black.
“Mr. Henson is a danger to the political system and the electoral process,” Davitt said.
The state originally recommended that Henson receive the same sentence as Schurick. Smith said he asked for only a $500 fine, comparing Henson’s case to a minor traffic violation.
In court, Smith criticized the state’s “crocodile tears” over Henson’s comments this week and maintained, as he did during the trial, that Henson had advised Schurick to keep the authority line on the calls. Smith argued that Henson had simply been serving his client, comparing Henson to an air conditioning repairman advising a stubborn customer to replace a unit.
“When a consultant is consulted, the consultant gives advice to a client,” Smith said.
Henson spoke before the court, saying it was unfair the state recommended a more severe sentence for him than for Schurick when Schurick was convicted on all counts.
“What has occurred in my view is that this has not been fair,” Henson said. “This has not been justice.”
Judge Brown, however, said it was Henson’s job to know to include an authority line at the end of a political message.
“You disregarded your role as a paid professional consultant,” Brown said in his sentencing. “You were the expert. You disregarded your responsibility to the client, yourself, your company, your employee. You disregarded your responsibility as a citizen and disregarded your responsibility to the citizens.”
Smith said he would appeal the case.
“It hurts my heart, but I do know someone like myself can fight another day,” Smith said outside the courthouse after the sentencing.