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Julius Henson, on left, and his lawyer, Russell A. Neverdon Sr., right (in hat), outside of Baltimore City Circuit Court on Feb. 27 after judge found Henson violated his probation by running for office. (The Daily Record/Danny Jacobs)

Henson appeals violation of probation conviction, sentence

Russell A. Neverdon Sr. filed his formal appeal early Wednesday afternoon on behalf of his client, Julius Henson, who received a four-month prison sentence last month for violating his probation by running for state Senate.

Hours later, the Court of Special Appeals said former Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold cannot be banned from running for elected office as a condition of his probation. So Neverdon said Thursday he also plans to ask a judge to reconsider Henson’s sentence in light of the appellate court ruling.

“I felt like a representative from the Court of Special Appeals was in [Henson’s] violation-of-probation hearing,” Neverdon said of reading the opinion.

Henson was found Feb. 27 to have violated his probation, but Baltimore City Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown stayed the sentence for 30 days to allow Henson to appeal.

Henson, a former political consultant convicted of sending automated robocalls during Election Day 2010, was put on three years’ probation with a condition that he not perform paid or unpaid work on any political campaigns. The Court of Special Appeals last year upheld the ban, calling it a “narrowly tailored punishment which relates directly to the offenses at the core of his conviction.”

Neverdon and Henson argued the ban applied to campaign work for others, not his own run for office. They argued, like Leopold and his lawyer, that setting qualifications for political office is a job for the legislature, not the judiciary.

An appellate panel on Wednesday sided with Leopold and distinguished its 2013 Henson decision. The Court of Special Appeals said it upheld the ban on campaigning in Henson’s case because the job of a campaign consultant “is not one subject to state licensing requirements” and there is “no legitimate control over his political activities,” Judge Alexander Wright Jr. wrote.

Neverdon, a Baltimore solo practitioner, agreed with the appellate court narrowly tailoring the employment ban and planned on appeal to again argue his point on the separation of powers when it comes to determining who decides eligibility to run for political office. But the one issue the Court of Special Appeals did not address was Henson’s ability to run for office, Neverdon said.

“At this juncture, I think we have the argument in our favor,” he said. “Now we have a legal ruling to support us.”

Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. “Mike” McDonough said Wednesday he did not want to speculate on how the decision in Leopold’s case could affect Henson’s. But he called the condition of probation in Leopold’s case “an unusual area.”

“The court called it like it saw it,” McDonough said of the ruling in Leopold’s case.

Late last year, Henson announced his intention to challenge Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore, which triggered the probation violation charge decided in circuit court last month.

Neverdon said he hopes Brown agrees to reconsider Henson’s sentence so the legal matter can be resolved before the June primary.

“Whatever [voters] decide of him as a candidate, let them decide at the polls,” he said.

Henson was convicted by being behind the robocalls, which prosecutors said were meant to keep black voters from the polls.