Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler Secures $1 Million Voter Suppression Judgment Against GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich Aide

BACKGROUND: In 2010, one-term Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich tried to reclaim his office from Martin O'Malley, after losing to the Democrat in 2006. As we now know, Mr. Ehrlich was trounced by Democratic Gov. O'Malley in the November 2010 rematch. Full disclosure: Maryland Juice was employed by the MD Dems Coordinated Campaign for the 2010 General Election.

One of the despicable aspects to Mr. Ehrlich's 2010 race was revealed following his pathetic come-back attempt. The Republican Governor's campaign team tried to suppress African-American votes through targeted mis-leading robocalls to black households through the Free State. Ehrlich's campaign taped a call for thousands of African-American voters, telling them that Obama and O'Malley had already succeeded -- ergo, they didn't need to turnout to vote.

The campaign aide responsible for the calls, Julius Henson, faced criminal voter suppression charges for his work on the Ehrlich campaign, but this month many were disappointed to see that a jury failed to convict him of the most serious charges. The Baltimore Sun reported earlier this month:
BALTIMORE SUN: Political consultant Julius Henson may have written the automated message that encouraged Democrats to stay home from the polls on Election Day 2010, but he didn't force voters to believe it, jury foreman Renee Johnson said Friday, explaining the split verdict in his case....

Jurors acquitted Henson on three of the four charges he faced in connection with the "robocall," made on behalf of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign about two hours before the polls closed.

Henson was found guilty of a single conspiracy count, for failing to include a campaign authority line in the call. He will be sentenced June 13 and could face a year in prison and a $1,000 fine....

Prosecutors argued that the robocall was intended to give black voters the impression that O'Malley had already defeated Ehrlich and that they had no need to head to the polls....

Henson said the call was intended to do just the opposite: prompt those voters to cast a ballot for Ehrlich. He argued that the call used reverse psychology.

The call, which went out to 112,000 households, told voters that O'Malley and President Barack Obama had been successful. Obama wasn't on the ballot that year.

"Our goals have been met," the message said. "The polls are correct, and we took it back. We're OK. Relax. Everything's fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight."

Ehrlich has said he did not know about the call. An attempt to reach him Friday was unsuccessful....

Though many were disappointed in the outcome of the criminal trial, a parallel civil trial came to a conclusion today. Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler announced via press release that he has secured a $1 million verdict against Mr. Henson and other operators of the misleading robocalls. See the press release and court order below:
AG Gansler Secures $1 Million Judgment
in Election Day Robocall Case
Julius Henson, Rhonda Russell and Universal Elections, Inc. held liable for violating Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Baltimore, MD (May 29, 2012) – Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today that the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, in a 13-page Memorandum, and in a separate Order, issued by Judge Catherine Blake, awarded the Office of the Attorney General $1,010,000 in damages for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) committed by Julius Henson, Henson’s company, Universal Elections, Inc., and Rhonda Russell, an employee of the company.
“On the night of the 2010 election I vowed to discover who was responsible for these voter suppression robocalls and hold the perpetrators responsible,” said Attorney General Gansler. “With this verdict, that is exactly what we have done.”

This case stems from the Election Day robocall that was written, recorded and sent by Henson and Russell on behalf of the 2010 campaign of gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. The message, which was sent to more than 112,000 Democratic voters in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, stated:
“Hello. I’m calling to let everyone know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct and we took it back. We’re okay. Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations and thank you.”

Absent from the message was the name and address or phone number of the party that initiated the call, which violates the TCPA. In its Memorandum, the District Court concluded that “the purpose of the message was to suppress the votes of the largely African-American and Democratic populations in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County.”

In her Order, Judge Blake concluded both Russell and Henson were aware of the requirements of TCPA that a campaign identify itself, but that Henson and Russell knowingly violated the statute. According to the Court, “without any doubt[] Henson discussed plans to suppress the votes of African-American Democrats, recorded the plan in [a] strategy memo sent to the Ehrlich campaign, and ultimately dictated and authorized the offending message.”

The Court awarded damages against Julius Henson and Universal Elections in the amount of $1,000,000. It awarded a smaller amount, $10,000, against Russell, finding that her violations were committed as an employee of Universal Elections while acting under the direction of Mr. Henson. In support of its damage award, the Court observed that Henson’s efforts “damaged public faith in the democratic process that is at the core of our system of government.”

"Voter suppression in Maryland will not be tolerated,” said Attorney General Gansler.  “The Court’s Opinion and damages award will hopefully make political consultants think twice before using these types of illegal dirty tricks again.”

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Bob Ehrlich Campaign Aide Julius Henson Receives $1 Million Verdict for Robocall Suppression

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