Political consultant Julius Henson plans to suggest in court this week that he is being prosecuted by the state's Democratic establishment only because he dared to work for Republicans, his attorney said Monday.
Henson is accused of election fraud stemming from a 2010 Election Day "robocall" that prosecutors say was intended to trick black voters into staying home. But Henson's attorney contended Monday that prosecutors would not have brought the case had his client continued to work for Democrats, as he had in previous campaigns.
"It would be extremely naive to believe that this isn't a political case," Henson's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., said in court. "I'm reminded of the ostrich who puts his head in the ground."
Overruling the objections of prosecutors, Baltimore Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown said he will allow Smith to assert that defense, which will suggest that the state Democratic Party establishment colluded to punish Henson for crossing party lines to work for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. during his campaign to unseat Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.
"I should have a clean shot at this," Smith said. "If I don't prove it, shame on me."
The automated call, which Henson has admitted he orchestrated, told voters in Baltimore and Prince George's County to "relax" and stay home. The call implied that O'Malley had already won his race against Ehrlich, even though the polls were still open.
Smith said his argument had nothing to do with the ethical standards of Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, who is handling the case. He said Democrats at the state and federal levels, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, have targeted Henson since the robocall went out.
"It's nothing personal against Mr. Davitt," Smith said. The case demonstrates "broad context of how power works," he said.
"Power begets power; it protects power," he added.
Davitt, who was appointed by O'Malley — as was Brown, the judge — said political parties had nothing to do with decisions to prosecute Henson or Ehrlich's campaign manager, Paul Schurick, who was convicted last year.
"I answer to nobody," Davitt said, arguing that Smith's line of argument was "totally irrelevant" and could turn the case into a "circus."
Though he ruled to allow the argument, Brown sided with the prosecution on other motions Monday, rejecting several attempts by Smith to have the case dismissed on technical grounds.
Throughout Monday afternoon, both sides worked to select a jury. Among the questions they asked prospective jurors was whether they are biased against people, such as Henson, who wear their hair in dreadlocks.
Opening statements could begin as early as Tuesday. The trial is expected to last eight days.
Schurick was convicted in December of four charges in connection with the robocall. He was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, 500 hours of community service and four years of probation.
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