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Despite ruling, Henson will run

For a man facing four months in jail, Julius Henson appeared rather relieved and upbeat Thursday afternoon. Now he could get back to campaigning.

Julius Henson

Julius Henson speaks to reporters after a hearing in Baltimore on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. (The Daily Record/Danny Jacobs)

“I’m glad the focus has shifted,” he said, surrounded by reporters and supporters outside Baltimore City Circuit Court. “I’m going to work on improving the 45th District.”

It was Henson’s very candidacy for the state Senate that led a judge to find him in violation of his probation. But Judge Emanuel Brown stayed the sentence for 30 days to allow Henson to file an appeal and also closed the probation, meaning Henson can remain on the campaign trail.

Henson was convicted in May 2012 for his role in sending automated robocalls while the polls were open on Election Day 2010, which sought to convince Democrats to stay home instead of voting in the gubernatorial election. Brown had sentenced Henson to a year in prison but suspended all but 60 days. Henson also was put on three years’ probation, with the provision that that he “shall not work in any political campaign paid/volunteer during probation.”

Brown said during Thursday’s 90-minute hearing he was “baffled” as to how Henson could have taken that to mean he could enter politics as a candidate.

“How do you violate the laws of this state in the political process as a consultant, get convicted, put on probation … and take that to mean, ‘Well, I can elevate myself and run for office’?” Brown asked.

The answer, according to Henson and his lawyer, is that Henson’s “work” in terms of his probation was as a political consultant, not as a candidate.

“I thought it was clear to me you cannot work or volunteer for a political campaign,” Henson said from the witness stand, testifying in his own defense. “It did not say you can’t be a candidate. It did not say I couldn’t vote. It did not say I couldn’t give money to a campaign.”

Russell A. Neverdon Sr., Henson’s lawyer, told the court that only the legislature can decide who is an eligible candidate.

“It’s not the court’s job to determine who is qualified for elective office,” said Neverdon, a Baltimore solo practitioner, who brought up the same point outside the courthouse when asked for a basis of his appeal.

Last fall, Henson began considering a run for the seat held by Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, the longtime East Baltimore lawmaker in Henson’s home district.

Chemaine Alston, Henson’s probation supervisor, testified Thursday that she saw a news report on his potential candidacy in October. Alston testified she spoke with Henson the next day and warned him that a run for office might violate the terms of his probation.

“He felt that being that he was not volunteering for his own campaign, it was not a violation,” Alston said.

Alston said she wrote up a report for the court of the possible violation and was told to follow up on the situation. A few months later, she saw another news report of his pending candidacy and requested a court summons.

The state filed a violation of probation charge against Henson in late January. He officially filed paperwork to run for office last week.

On Thursday, State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said Alston put Henson on notice of a potential violation but Henson never sought a clarification of his probation.

“Basically, what happened was, Mr. Henson said, ‘I’ll decide what this probation means,’” Davitt said.

Brown agreed, chiding Henson for “having a more cavalier approach to being on probation than is healthy.”

“This court is of the mindset that the defendant elected to do what the defendant wanted to do,” Brown said.

Davitt did not recommend a specific punishment during sentencing but noted Brown could order Henson to end his candidacy. Davitt said afterward Henson received a fair sentence.

“The court felt it had no choice,” Davitt said, referring to the probation violation. “He hadn’t sought a clarification.”

How Thursday’s proceedings will affect Henson’s campaign remains to be seen. The courtroom was filled with Henson’s family and supporters, a few leaving in tears.

Naon Locust, who lives in the 45th District, said Henson’s sentence was the result of a “kangaroo court.”

“He has not committed unpardonable sins,” she said. “He has done wonders for the Berea community.”

But Larry S. Gibson, an election law professor and veteran campaign organizer, said Henson’s underlying crime will be an “unpardonable sin” to the “sophisticated” voters that come out in a primary election.

“Henson would have a better chance of being elected if he committed a bank robbery than voter suppression,” said Gibson, of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Gibson added he did not think Henson would win on appeal because Brown has the authority to enforce the probation, and it was not as if the judge issued an injunction with the State Board of Elections to remove Henson’s name from the ballot.

“I don’t think it was an election law ruling,” he said. “This was a criminal ruling.”

McFadden expressed a similar sentiment Thursday evening, saying the judge made a “wise decision.”

“Voter suppression is not in my makeup at all,” the incumbent said. “It’s reprehensible.”

McFadden also said his focus now is on the General Assembly and he will be devoting more time to his re-election campaign once the session ends.

“I’m not focused on what Mr. Henson does or what he says,” McFadden said. “He has to answer for his own indiscretions.”

Henson’s conviction stems from his work as a consultant in former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s 2010 election campaign.

On Election Day, automated calls went out to registered Democrat voters in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County, urging them to stay home and “relax,” implying Gov. Martin O’Malley had already bested Ehrlich in the race.

The calls did not disclose that they were placed on behalf of the Ehrlich campaign.

Henson was charged with election fraud but acquitted on that count. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to violate election laws.

He has always maintained that he was simply serving his client.

Henson and his company, Universal Elections Inc., must also pay $1 million to the state for sending the automated phone calls, according to a federal judge’s order in a separate civil case that was affirmed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July.

Henson also appealed his Baltimore City Circuit Court conviction and sentence, but the Court of Special Appeals affirmed both in June.

Ehrlich’s campaign manager, Paul E. Schurick, was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to violate election laws, one count of election fraud and one count of violating the authority line requirement. He was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, a one-year suspended jail sentence and 500 hours of community service.


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