Maryland prosecutors said Thursday they have charged the top aide of a state delegate with making illegal robocalls about rights for transgender people against fellow Republican Delegate Kathy Szeliga, who is a member of the state’s GOP leadership.
State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt announced misdemeanor charges against Tyler Walch, who is chief of staff for Delegate Richard Impallaria, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.
Impallaria said House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch’s office fired Walch after learning of the charges. A spokeswoman for Busch said Walch is no longer with the General Assembly. House of Delegates staff are employees of the assembly, not of individual lawmakers.
Walch did not respond to messages seeking comment. He did not yet have a lawyer listed in court records.
Prosecutors allege Walch was responsible for the publication and distribution of a “robocall” last year to approximately 9,000 residents of the two counties.
Impallaria and Szeliga were running the same three-seat primary election for the District 7 seats in the House of Delegates.
The robocall was disseminated June 25, the day before the primary. It failed to identify Walch or the Friends of Rick Impallaria campaign as responsible for the call, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors further allege that Walch told Impallaria about the contents of the call before sending it. Davitt said Impallaria will not be charged in the case.
“There’s not evidence that he directed it,” the prosecutor said.
The call concerned Szeliga’s 2016 vote in favor of a bill that prohibited employers from discriminating against transgender people at work. The call misleadingly purported to be from an advocate of transgender rights, according to prosecutors.
“Hi, this is Ali, a donor to the National Center for Transgender Equality, calling to ask you to support Delegate Kathy Szeliga in tomorrow’s Republican primary election,” the call stated. “Kathy Szeliga is a true friend of the transgender community, having voted for House Bill 1003, making it illegal to discriminate against transgendered persons in the workplace. With the support of lawmakers willing to work across the aisle, like Kathy Szeliga, transgenders will soon be able to use the bathrooms of their choice. Again, this is Ali calling to ask you to support Kathy Szeliga, a friend of the transgender community. Thank you.”
The two-count case is charged in Baltimore County District Court. The maximum penalty for each offense is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A trial has been set for March 12.
“This message not only failed to provide the information required by Maryland law, it attempted to deliberately deceive voters by providing misleading information,” Davitt said in a statement. “Maryland voters are entitled to know what person or group is responsible for such material, particularly when it is published and distributed one day before the primary election. The credibility of the messenger is an essential factor in evaluating the value of the message.”
In an interview, Impallaria praised Walch as an outstanding chief of staff and said he thought the authority line charge was a minor offense.
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“Tyler Walch is an honorable disabled veteran, who came to work for me one day after he left the U.S. Army,” the delegate said. “He has done a phenomenal job.”
“I can’t believe this is being done over an authority line,” Impallaria said.
Szeliga, who is the minority whip in Maryland’s House of Delegates and a former U.S. Senate candidate, said she learned of the robocall the night of the primary, when supporters began calling her about it.
“I’m pleased the prosecutor has taken this up,” she said. “Election laws exist for a reason. Willfully and knowingly misleading voters is wrong.”
Szeliga described the call as “disgusting.”
“It was insulting, divisive and inappropriate,” she said.
Szeliga received the most votes in the primary election, followed by Impallaria and fellow Republican Lauren Arikan. All three won their general election races and serve together in the House of Delegates.