Judge dismisses political `robo calls' lawsuit

June 30, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

A lawsuit seeking to end automated political "robo calls" has been dismissed in Harford County Circuit Court after a judge ruled that the candidates could not be sued for the actions of their campaign committees.

Consumer lawyer Michael C. Worsham of Forest Hill filed the suit in November after he said he received a string of calls with recorded messages from political candidates, including former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Harford County Executive David R. Craig.

Worsham said the calls violated federal and state communications rules, and he sought $8,000 in damages, hoping that the lawsuit could help make such calls subject to placement on the federal do-not-call registry.

Judge William O. Carr dismissed the case Monday, ruling that the court did not have jurisdiction on federal and state communications law violations, as well as siding with lawyers for the defendants, who said they could not be held responsible for the actions of their campaign groups.

In addition to Ehrlich and Craig, Harford County Clerk of Courts James J. Reilly and Ehrlich's running mate, Kristen Cox, were named as defendants. Worsham also later added former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani, whose voice was on some of the recorded endorsements for Ehrlich. All are Republicans.

Candidates across the nation spent millions on political phone calls last year, which some voters said were harassing and violated federal rules requiring automated calls to be identified.

In the past legislative session, three unsuccessful bills were introduced to block automated political campaign calls to anyone on the do-not-call list, which protects phone customers only from telemarketers.

Ehrlich's attorney said the calls were "privileged communications" and not criminal or prohibited speech punishable under state or federal law. Worsham countered that he wasn't suing for the content of the calls but because he said they violated time, place and manner restrictions.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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