Conviction upheld in 'relax' robocall from 2010 election night

Maryland's second-highest court upheld on Monday political consultant Julius Henson's conspiracy conviction in a robocall scheme that prosecutors said was designed to suppress black votes.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reaffirmed the conviction, writing that the case "presents us with a sad tale." A judge wrote that Henson "and his collaborators callously attempted to manipulate members of the electorate."

Henson, 64, was found guilty in May 2012 of conspiracy to violate election law by not including an authority line from a robocall used as part of the campaign to elect Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Erhlich lost the election to incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. Henson was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

The call targeted Democratic voters in Baltimore and Prince George's County and said they should "relax" — suggesting that the election had been decided in O'Malley's favor.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Henson said he had not reviewed the opinion and wanted to speak with his attorney about it before discussing it publicly.

Henson's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., said "there were substantial issues that were involved in the case. We will fight it until we can't fight it anymore."

Among the topics raised in the appeal were First Amendment rights to free speech.

The opinion, written by Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr., notes that Henson's conviction was not over voter fraud by misrepresenting the results of the election but for the omission of the source of funds used to create and distribute the message.

The court found that "it is precisely his role as a consultant directing the use of campaign funds that excludes him from the First Amendment's protection of anonymous speech."

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, who argued the case before Judge Emanuel Brown during the two-week trial, said he was "pleased with the court's opinion. It has been our position all along that Mr. Henson received a fair trial and was sentenced fairly and appropriately."

Henson's appeal also raised additional issues over jury instructions, expert witness testimony, and the fact that he was found guilty of conspiracy but not of committing the act. The appellate court said a conspiracy conviction did not require a conviction in the underlying offense.

Henson also challenged a condition of probation that prohibited him from participating in politics. But the court said it was necessary, given that political consultants are not subject to any state licensing. Henson should "not work in 'any capacity in election campaigns' during the term of his probation," the ruling said. He was acquitted of three other counts, including election fraud.

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