'Robocall' documents detail alleged plan to suppress black votes

Below is the central evidence in prosecutors' case against Julius Henson and how The Sun got the documents

May 03, 2012|By Luke Broadwater | The Baltimore Sun

One document proposed a deliberate plan to suppress black votes: "The first and most desired outcome is voter suppression."

Another depicted the campaign of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. promising a bonus to consultant Julius Henson if he made "the city turnout stay low" on Election Day 2010. 

A third document contained notes from a Henson employee that said: "Suppress turnout in black communities," next to the words: "Obama, O'Malley, Oh No!"

The materials, all seized during state prosecutors and FBI raids of properties associated with Henson companies Politics Today and Universal Elections, have been used as evidence in the ongoing trial against Henson, as well as an earlier case against Ehrlich campaign manager Paul Schurick. Schurick was convicted of four charges in the matter in December.

The men were accused of orchestrating a "robocall" in attempt to trick black voters by telling them to "relax" and stay home from the voting booths before the polls were closed, as Ehrlich tried unsuccessfully to unseat Gov. Martin O'Malley.

-Related: How The Sun got the story behind the robocalls.

But during Schurick's trial, the Baltimore court employees handling the case refused to release copies of the evidence to a reporter when initially asked. I was told I would need to make my request directly to the judge hearing the case. (It's common in courts that any reporter can make copies of any documents introduced in any case, but sometimes judges will refuse to release evidence while a trial is ongoing.)

A Sun reporter emailed Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, requesting to inspect the court file and make copies of key evidence. There was precedent for this request, as the judge in the Sheila Dixon trial had allowed media to photograph evidence in that case.

Below was his response:

Mr. Broadwater,

A request for action by the Court cannot be made by email not served on either of the parties to the case.  Any request must be made either by written motion filed with the Clerk of the Court or by oral motion made in open court.

I will be sharing both your email and this reply with counsel for the parties to ensure the fairness of the proceedings.

Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill
Circuit Court for Baltimore City
Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse, Room 101
100 North Calvert Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Thus, the next day, The Sun asked the court to make the documents public in the middle of the trial -- a request to which neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys objected and Fletcher-Hill subsequently approved. The documents were then released to The Sun, Washington Post, Associated Press and other media outlets once The Sun's motion was approved.

The documents make for interesting reading that is once again relevant as Henson's trial is now underway. They are posted to the left and can also be found here. Here's what they say:

* The first 13 pages are a $600,000 proposal that Henson made to the Ehrlich campaign in July of 2010 that contains what's now known as the "Schurick Doctrine," to "promote confusion, emotionalism and frustration among African-American Democrats." Ehrlich's campaign rejected this proposal, but prosecutors say it shows Henson's intent was to suppress votes.

* The next six pages are emails and calls between various members of the Ehrlich campaign and Henson's companies. They describe Henson placing the robocall at the center of the trial and asking to be paid $7,000 for doing so.

* The following page contains notes from Henson employee Rhonda Russell (whose voice was on the now-famous "robocall") from a conversation in September of 2010. Prosecutors say these notes show Henson planned to suppress 100,000 black votes.

* The final documents show Henson billing the campaign. (His attorney said in court this week that the Ehrlich campaign has still not paid him.)

One would think it would be pretty simple to access public documents in a public trial, but as shown above sometimes a reporter has to get involved in the proceedings to make it possible.



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