Election robocalls trial postponed after judge recuses himself

The trial of a veteran political operative, charged with violating election laws by sending out robocalls on Election Day last year that suggested voting was over, was postponed Tuesday after the only judge available to hear the case recused himself.

Julius Henson, 62, who at the time was working for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on his 2010 campaign, is charged with three counts of conspiracy to violate election laws, among other charges. A new trial was set for February.

The case was assigned to Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles J. Peters, but, according to Henson's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., Peters recused himself because he had recently been appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, Ehrlich's opponent in last year's gubernatorial election. He was the only judge available.

Attorneys for Henson and former Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick, who is also charged in the case, have said their clients are innocent.

The indictments brought by State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt describe a 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 calls, which went out anonymously to more than 112,000 voters, featured a woman's voice saying Gov. Martin O'Malley and President Obama had been "successful." "Relax. Everything's fine," the call said. "The only thing left to do is watch it on TV tonight." In fact, the polls were still open.

According to recently filed court documents, an employee of Henson is expected to testify for the state.

After reports of the calls surfaced, The Sun first traced the calls to Henson's company, Universal Elections. Starting with Internet postings complaining about receiving calls from the same number in a small-town election in Alabama, The Sun traced the calls to a Pennsylvania-based company called Robodials.org, whose owner said Universal Elections had paid for the calls.

Henson, a longtime political consultant who worked for years with Democratic candidates across the state, was paid $111,000 by Ehrlich, a Republican, for "community outreach," according to campaign finance records.

Henson and his associate. Rhonda Russell. also face a multimillion-dollar federal civil complaint filed by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. An attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division is also listed as a plaintiff in the case.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, Russell was granted immunity both in federal and state court in exchange for her testimony.

Schurick's trial is scheduled to start Nov. 28. In addition to election fraud charges, he is also charged with obstruction of justice. His attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, was in the courtroom Tuesday to observe.


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