Two longtime political operatives who worked last year on the gubernatorial campaign of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. were indicted Thursday and charged with ordering deceptive automated phone calls intended to suppress votes on election night.
Political consultant Julius Henson and campaign manager Paul Schurick each face three counts of conspiracy to violate Maryland election laws, one count of attempting to influence a voter's decision and one count of failing to provide an authority line on campaign material. Schurick also is charged with one count of obstruction of justice.
The state prosecutor's indictments for Henson, 62, and Schurick, 54, describe an Ehrlich campaign document titled "The Schurick Doctrine" with a stated goal "to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats."
The document said, according to court papers: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression." The indictment did not identify the document's author.
Peter Zeidman, an attorney for Schurick, said the charges are "based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts."
"When the truth comes out," he said, it will be clear that Schurick "did not violate any laws."
Edward Smith Jr., Henson's attorney, said his client is not guilty and that he would "let the process work itself out."
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt addressed reporters briefly in front of the Baltimore courthouse and read the charges. In a statement that he distributed, he said: "We will aggressively investigate and prosecute any illegal tactics that attempt to threaten [the election process'] integrity."
Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed Davitt to the post in late November.
If convicted, Henson and Schurick could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison for each election law and voter influence count, and one year for the authority line violations.
The indictments followed an eight-month investigation by the state prosecutor's office into more than 112,000 robocalls that went out late on Election Day. A caller instructed voters in Baltimore and Prince George's County to stay home and "relax" because O'Malley had already won. In fact, the polls were still open.
Ehrlich was not accused of wrongdoing, though the taint from his aides' indictments could provide an embarrassing epilogue to his 14-percentage-point defeat.
In a statement, Ehrlich said: "I believe in the rule of law. I believe in my friend and colleague, Paul Schurick. I hope a fair resolution is reached as quickly as possible for both Paul and Mr. Henson."
Ehrlich testified before the Baltimore grand jury this month. Greg Massoni, another longtime Ehrlich aide, also appeared before the grand jurors. Massoni and Ehrlich now work for the Washington office of the law firm King & Spalding.
Schurick is working as an independent consultant, Zeidman said.
It's unclear what effect, if any, the case will have on the state Republican Party or Ehrlich's reputation. Maryland Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney said that it "is not at all on my radar" and that he is focused on raising money in a difficult time.
The state's Democrats were more outspoken. Party Chairwoman Yvette Lewis released a statement describing the robocalls as "reprehensible." She said she was "outraged" by "any action intended to disenfranchise voters."
Schurick has been a fixture in Maryland politics for decades. He worked in communications for Democratic former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and was sometimes called the "Democrat" in Ehrlich's close-knit group of aides.
He helped Ehrlich win election in 2002 and was rewarded with a job as communications director in the governor's office. A member of the inner circle of aides, he followed Ehrlich to work at the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in 2007. Still loyal, he left the firm last year to head up Ehrlich's rematch with O'Malley.