A Baltimore jury Tuesday found Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign manager, guilty of election fraud and related charges for his role in an Election Day 2010 robocall. The jury found Schurick guilty on all four counts, including election fraud and failing to include an Ehrlich campaign authorization line on the calls. After the verdict was read, Schurick clutched his wife, who burst into tears.
Prosecutors said the call, which was made as Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley swept to a re-election victory, was designed to suppress black votes. Schurick maintained a solemn face after the hearing, comforted distraught family members and friends and declined to comment on the verdict. His attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, called himself “disappointed” and vowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds that the call was protected, political speech. “The attempt for the state to regulate political speech is unconstitutional,” he said.
Outside Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore, State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said he hopes the jury’s decision “sends a message” to political campaigns to clean up their acts.
“This type of behavior has always existed, but it seems like it’s … becoming more of a problem,” Davitt said. “We certainly respect the First Amendment, but the courts have made clear … that the First Amendment does not protect fraudulent speech. Clearly that was the case here. It wasn’t just political speech. It was fraudulent speech.”
Schurick and his defense team had portrayed the robocall as a mistake — a hastily designed plan to bolster “crossover” black votes for Ehrlich — and used prominent politicians from both parties to vouch for his character.
“We made a faux pas,” defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit said in his closing statement Monday. “That’s not criminal. That’s evidence of somebody who made a political misjudgment, a political faux pas, a political mistake.”