Paul Schurick, political aide to former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich was found guilty by a Baltimore jury on Dec. 6 for conspiring to curb Black voter turnout during the 2010 gubernatorial election.
According to the Associated Press, Schurick was convicted on all the four charges he faced including conspiring to fraudulently influence a voter's decision and failing to provide an authority line on distributed campaign material. Conspiracy counts can come with a maximum of five years in prison, while the authority line count can lead up to one year.
Schurick testified that he rejected campaign consultant Julius Henson's Black voter suppression tactic, while he later approved a telephone message that contacted thousands of Black voters and lured them into believing that Gov. Martin O'Malley had won.
The robocalls were sent out to nearly 112,000 Democratic voters in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, according to WBAL-TV.
"Hello. I'm calling to let everybody know that Governor O'Malley and President Obama have been successful," the call said. "Our goals have been met. The polls were correct and we took it back. We're OK. Relax. Everything's fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations, and thank you."
Defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit told the jury in his closing argument that while the calls may seem like a stupid idea now, Schurick relied on Henson to determine the best strategies to win.
Pettit discussed the move with the AFRO during a recent interview.
“We’re very disappointed about the verdict because the facts indicated that there was no criminal intent…the facts show that there was no conspiracy,” he said. “What Mr. Schurick did was approve a recommendation by Mr. Henson at a late hour on election day where Mr. Henson advised him that he believed [the robocalls] could get out three or four thousand more votes through reverse psychology in the African-American community.”
Pettit added that Henson’s purposed “Schurick Doctrine,” which was introduced during a meeting in July and was designed to suppress the Black vote was quickly refuted.
“Whatever suppression Henson brought to that meeting, it was totally outright rejected by the Ehrlich campaign,” he said.
Pettit plans to appeal the verdict on grounds of the First Amendment, driving home the fact that the state can’t control free political speech.
“We will definitely be vindicated in our appeal,” he said. “We firmly believe that this was a conspiracy by the powers that be in the Democratic Party to punish those who are in different political persuasions.”
During the trial, state prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt dismissed the defense’s reverse psychology claim as "ridiculous."
"We may never know what Schurick was thinking, but we know that he knew what Henson was thinking and he kept him around," he said, according to the AP.
Henson argued that he didn’t know the calls were illegal. His trial will begin on Feb. 16, 2012, when Schurick will learn his fate.