BALTIMORE - A Republican campaign consultant was convicted Friday of conspiracy for 2010 robocalls that prosecutors said were aimed at keeping black voters from the polls during Maryland's gubernatorial election.
Julius Henson was acquitted of three other charges, including influencing or attempting to influence a voter's decision whether to go to the polls through the use of fraud. He worked for former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's campaign during his rematch with Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"Obviously, we're elated," said Henson who noted he was found not guilty of the most serious charges and that he felt the state's own witnesses showed the message brought voters on both sides to the polls.
Henson was found guilty of conspiring to not provide an authority line on campaign materials and released on his own recognizance pending sentencing. Henson's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., immediately told the judge he would file for a new trial on that charge. Baltimore Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown scheduled a June 13 sentencing date as well as a hearing that day on the motion Smith said he would file within 10 days.
Afterward, Henson again defended the message.
"This is what we do in politics each and every day, I thought it was a good call with or without a tag," Henson said, adding the campaign decided not to put an authority line on the message.
When asked outside the courtroom about the grounds for a new trial, Smith said constitutional free speech rights were among the strongest. The attorney said the conspiracy charge was the least of the charges Henson faced because it didn't say Henson kept voters from the polls.
"That really is the blockbuster because this was meant to send that message," Smith said of the trial.
The calls were sent in the hours before polls closed on Election Day to about 110,000 Democratic voters in Baltimore and Prince George's County _ two jurisdictions with high percentages of black voters. The calls told listeners to "relax" because O'Malley had won.
Henson, who is black, testified at the trial that he was hired to help the Ehrlich campaign with African-American community outreach and the calls were a counterintuitive attempt to stimulate voting in the final hours of the election.
The jury of five black men, five black women and two white men had deliberated over three days.
Ehrlich campaign manager Paul Schurick also was convicted in the case. Schurick was found guilty of conspiring to use fraud to influence or attempt to influence a voter's decision to go to the polls and to publish campaign material without an authority line. He received a one-year suspended sentence and 30 days of home detention.
State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt said he was disappointed not to get convictions on three of the counts, but was "hopeful the conviction in conjunction with the convictions of Mr. Schurick will send the message that our elections laws are there to protect our right to vote and to protect the integrity of the system and will be enforced."
Davitt said his office would oppose attempts to seek a new trial, which he said was a routine motion by defense attorneys that is rarely granted and he didn't feel there was any basis for one in this case.
Henson, who faces up to a year on the conspiracy charge, said he was relieved because the trial could have turned out similarly to Schurick's trial.
Henson said he and his supporters were elated that the most serious charges were dropped. He also questioned how he could be found guilty of conspiracy not to put an authority line on the material and not guilty doing so, adding that he advised the campaign to add the line.
"It was not my job to do that," Henson said. "I told them the correct thing to do and they refused to do it."
Henson said 50 percent of campaign materials don't have authority lines, and he likened the lack of one to jaywalking.
"It's not enforced. This happens every day," Henson said.
Henson said he had lost millions of dollars in consulting fees while dealing with the trial and now planned to work on a campaign opposing same-sex marriage in Maryland.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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