Political `robo calls' focus of suit

Harford attorney sues Ehrlich, others, arguing automated messages violate federal law

November 09, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,sun reporter

Michael C. Worsham was getting tired of political "robo calls," and on the day before the election, he decided to do something about it: The Forest Hill resident sued several candidates -- including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- to get them to stop calling his home with recorded campaign messages.

When he got home from work after filing the suit, his phone rang: It was the recorded voice of Ehrlich.

Worsham, a consumer lawyer, is hoping his lawsuit might help make such calls subject to the Do Not Call list. He said the calls violate federal and state communications rules and is seeking $8,000 in damages.

"Preferably, I'd like to see these types of calls banned, so people who don't want to get them can stop them in advance," said Worsham, a registered independent.

Named in the suit, which was filed Monday in Harford County Circuit Court, are Ehrlich and his running mate, Kristen Cox; Harford County Executive David R. Craig; Clerk of Courts James J. Reilly; and a nonprofit group, Common Sense Ohio, which made calls on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Michael S. Steele. All are Republicans.

Candidates across the country spent millions on political phone calls this year, sparking a handful of complaints to the Federal Communications Commission. Frustrated voters say the calls are harassing and have argued that they violate federal rules requiring automated calls to be identified.

The FCC's rules on prerecorded calls require that they "at the beginning of the message, state clearly the identity of the business, individual, or other entity that is responsible for initiating the call," as well as provide the number of the caller during or after the message.

According to Worsham's suit, several calls placed to his home between Oct. 25 and Nov. 4 did not give the name or number of the callers. He noted that Ehrlich signed into law the Maryland Telephone Consumer Act in 2004.

In congressional races across the country, Common Sense had automated calls placed on behalf of Republican candidates, asking a series of "yes" or "no" questions about different issues. U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin demanded that Steele put an end to calls made by the group that equated Cardin's support for embryonic stem cell research to "medical experiments on unborn babies."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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