-By Sarah Brumfirld
December 6, 2011- A political aide to former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich was convicted Tuesday of conspiring to use Election Day robocalls in what prosecutors cast as an effort to suppress black voter turnout during the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Paul Schurick was found guilty of all four counts he faced, including conspiracy to influence or attempt to influence a voter's decision whether to go to the polls through the use of fraud and conspiracy to publish campaign material without an authority line. A stoic Schurick comforted his wife in the courtroom after the Baltimore jury's verdict was read, but declined to comment.
His attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said they will appeal.
Political experts say the case could have an impact on future campaigns, discouraging attempts to keep voters from casting ballots.
Prosecutors argued the calls that went out on the evening of Election Day to about 110,000 voters in Baltimore 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."
Schurick testified that he rejected campaign consultant Julius Henson's black voter suppression strategy dubbed "The Schurick Doctrine" but later approved the robocall script. He called it a counterintuitive attempt to mobilize crossover Democrats and said he didn't know the authority line, which would have noted that the message came from Ehrlich's campaign, would be left off. Henson, whose trial on similar charges is set to begin in February, has said he did not believe the calls were illegal and that they weren't meant to suppress the vote.
O'Malley handily won last year's rematch against the Republican Ehrlich, whom he had unseated in 2006. Ehrlich issued a statement in response to the verdict supporting his friend: "While I vehemently disagree with the decision from a Baltimore City Jury, I do respect our legal system."
These kinds of activities aren't new, but have become more problematic recently, said State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt. He said he hopes the verdict will send a message that it is more than just "dirty tricks" and the law will be enforced.