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Md. jury: Ex-gov. aide tried to curb black vote

BALTIMORE - A Baltimore jury Tuesday convicted a political aide to former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich of conspiring to suppress black voter turnout during the 2010 gubernatorial election.

Paul Schurick was found guilty of all four counts he faced, including conspiracy to violate state election laws and attempting to influence a voter's decision whether to go to the polls through the use of fraud.

Schurick had testified that he rejected campaign consultant Julius Henson's black voter suppression strategy but later approved an automated telephone call sent on Election Day to about 110,000 Democratic voters in heavily black jurisdictions. The call told them to relax because Gov. Martin O'Malley had already won.

Schurick said it was meant to mobilize crossover Democrats, not keep people from going to the polls.

Prosecutors argued the calls to voters in Baltimore city and Prince George's County, two jurisdictions with high percentages of black voters, were an effort by the Republican campaign to reduce the number of black Democrats voting in heavily Democratic Maryland.

"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."

O'Malley handily won last year's rematch against the Republican Ehrlich, whom he had unseated in 2006.

In his closing argument, State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt branded as "ridiculous" the explanation by Ehrlich's former campaign director that the calls were a counterintuitive attempt to spur Ehrlich supporters to head to the polls. Davitt reminded jurors of a July meeting where Henson — whose trial in the case is set to begin in February — proposed a plan dubbed "The Schurick Doctrine" to suppress the black vote, a plan Schurick testified that he rejected.

"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.

Defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit told the jury in his closing argument that the robocalls may seem stupid now, but at the time, Schurick was depending on high-priced campaign consultant Julius Henson who was telling him that was how to get the votes the campaign needed to win.

"Maybe he shouldn't have listened to the consultant," he said.

Henson, whose trial on similar charges is set to begin in February, has said he did not believe the calls were illegal and weren't meant to suppress the vote.

Schurick was charged with attempting to influence a voter's decision on whether to go to the polls through the use of fraud and failing to provide an authority line on distributed campaign material and two counts of conspiracy to violate state election laws. The authority line violations carry a maximum of a year in prison if convicted. The other charges carry up to five years in prison for each count.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill dismissed an additional conspiracy count and one count of obstruction of justice for allegedly withholding documentation sought through a grand jury subpoena.