Former Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick's defense in the case of a campaign robocall telling voters to "relax" and not go to the polls appears to center on the idea that he is an honest man of integrity. So one of the marquee witnesses on his behalf is: former Gov. Marvin Mandel?
Yes, that former Gov. Marvin Mandel, the one who was convicted in 1977 of 17 counts of mail fraud and two of racketeering for accepting gifts and bribes from racetrack investors in return for his influence in pushing legislation favorable for them. He served 19 months in federal prison before President Ronald Reagan commuted his sentence. The conviction was later overturned based on a Supreme Court decision that changed the standards for mail fraud -- not because the central facts of the case had come into question.
Perhaps Sheila Dixon was unavailable?
Other star character witnesses for Mr. Schurick were former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (in his second recent turn on the stand, after vouching for state Sen. Ulysses Currie in his federal corruption trial) and former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. In 2006, the Ehrlich campaign (of which Mr. Schurick was a chief architect) bused homeless men from Philadelphia to Prince George's County to distribute material falsely suggesting that the governor and Mr. Steele, who was then running for the U.S. Senate, had the backing of the county's African-American Democratic political establishment.
And although Mr. Ehrlich has never personally been implicated, he has been the beneficiary over the years of bruising political tactics on his behalf, dating to his very first campaign, a primary battle against Republican Del. Thomas W. Chamberlain, and to his first run for Congress, against former Gilman classmate Gerry Brewster.
But this instance is different because of a specific line of Maryland law, and as a result, Mr. Schurick's character is ultimately irrelevant to the decision the jury must make. The law says that a person may not "willfully and knowingly ... influence or attempt to influence a voter's decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward." That leaves two basic questions. Did Mr. Schurick authorize the robocall and know what it contained? And did the call amount to a fraudulent attempt to keep voters from the polls?
On the first question, the prosecution has presented evidence that Mr. Schurick acknowledged authorizing the call but claimed not to have heard it on election day. Prosecutors also showed that a copy of the robocall was sent to Mr. Schurick's voice mail, and that Mr. Schurick listened to his voicemail within 20 minutes after the calls started.
On the second question, Mr. Schurick's attorney, Dwight Pettit, has sought to persuade the jury that the intent was not to keep voters home but to act as a counter-intuitive spur for potential Ehrlich voters to head to the polls. Circuit Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill has made his opinion clear: "The message, in the court's judgment, is plainly fraudulent," he said, adding that it was "an attempt to try to get people to stay home." What the jury will conclude remains to be seen.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun