Political consultant Julius Henson returned to the witness stand Monday and placed blame for a controversial Election Day 2010 robocall on a top campaign aide to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Henson told jurors in Baltimore Circuit Court that he was eating with his granddaughter at a Baltimore McDonald's at 4:42 p.m. Election Day when Ehrlich campaign manager Paul Schurick called him and authorized Henson to arrange the call — which prosecutors have described as a plan to suppress the black vote through fraud.
The automated call suggested registered Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County should "relax" and stay home. It implied that Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, had already won his race against Ehrlich, a Republican, even though the polls were still open.
Henson, who is charged with election fraud, testified that he wrote the call in three minutes on the back of a McDonald's napkin and called Schurick to read to him what he proposed to tell potential voters.
"That's good," Henson recalled Schurick telling him.
But Henson said he was surprised when Schurick instructed him not to include an Ehrlich campaign authority line on the call.
"I had no way of knowing the Ehrlich campaign was going to reject the authority line," Henson testified. "I would have never dreamed they would have sent this call without the tag. ... It wasn't my decision to make."
During his own trial last year, Schurick said he trusted Henson as a campaign consultant to create and handle the details of the automated phone call. He testified that the campaign had a contract with Henson's company specifying that it was Henson's responsibility to make sure his actions were legal. Schurick was convicted in December of four charges in connection with the robocall.
Asked by his attorney, Edward Smith Jr., about a much broader plan written earlier during the campaign by Henson that suggested suppressing votes throughout the state, Henson said he had written it based on conversations with Schurick. Henson said his plan was based on what he called the "Schurick Doctrine," which prosecutors have defined as promoting "confusion, emotionalism and frustration" among black voters.
"This was a proposal based on what Mr. Schurick instructed me to do," Henson testified. Henson and others have testified that the campaign rejected the plan more than three months before the election.
Henson said suppressing votes is a common tactic for political campaigns. He said efforts to suppress votes include negative advertising to dull the enthusiasm of a candidate's supporters.
"To a consultant, voter suppression is just another term for voter apathy," Henson said.
Still, Henson testified that his companies, Politics Today and Universal Elections, "basically believe that people ought to participate in the electoral process" and that he tried to encourage the Ehrlich campaign to reach out to black voters.
"We tried to send them in another direction, but this is what [the campaign] wanted," he said.
Smith told the judge he sent a subpoena to Schurick, through his attorney, and planned to have him testify in the case.
Reached later, Schurick's attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said his client is protected by the Fifth Amendment and cannot be compelled to testify against himself.
Schurick was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, 500 hours of community service and four years of probation. The Ehrlich campaign paid Henson $16,000 a month — for a total of $112,000 — and promised a bonus of $30,000 should Ehrlich win. Ehrlich has said he knew nothing of the call.
knew nothing of the call.