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Maryland GOP campaign operative sentenced for 'robocalls'

The campaign manager for former Republican Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s re-election bid was sentenced today to 30 days of home detention, four years of probation and 500 hours of community service for his role in a 2010 Election Day robocall scheme.

Paul Schurick was convicted in December on four counts, including using fraud to influence or attempt to influence the decisions of voters whether to go to the polls after he authorized a call prosecutors say was aimed at suppressing black votes.

The automated call went out to over 110,000 Democratic voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County before the polls had closed and stated that Ehrlich’s opponent, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and President Obama, who was not on the ballot, had been successful.

“Our goals have been met,” the recording stated, “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.”

Prior to receiving his sentence Shurick addressed the judge, taking responsibility for the decision and calling it “a profound personal failure” that ended his career and put his family through hell. He said he learned his lesson and said the decision he made destroyed any legacy he may have left after 30 years in public service.

Judge Fletcher-Hill, in a courtroom filled with several Schurick supporters, said the offense in the case “strikes at the heart” of some of the most important values of this nation, and that it needs to serve as a message for anyone who would interfere with a person’s vote.

Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt called the sentence appropriate and said the conviction sends the message “that this type of behavior is more than just a dirty trick or politics as usual. It is illegal, and it will be prosecuted in the state of Maryland.”

Outside the courthouse, Schurick echoed his sentiments to the judge. “In addition to a mistake, and in addition to a violation of the law… it was, in fact, a profound personal failure. And I have paid, and will continue to pay for that failure.”

Schurick maintains, though, that the goal of the call was not to suppress black voters, but rather to encourage black supporters of Bob Ehrlich to go to the polls.

“I believed that there were several thousand African-American supporters of Bob Ehrlich who had not yet voted that day and that a call or message, as counterintuitive as it seems in hindsight, that a message such as that one would, in fact, motivate them to go to the polls if they had not already done so.”

Schurick told reporters that though he knows what was in his heart the afternoon he authorized the call, he has “been convicted by a jury in Baltimore City of committing fraud. I can’t challenge that.”

Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis is among the Prince George’s County residents who received one of the automated calls on Election Day 2010. Lewis says she “absolutely” interpreted the message as one telling her not to worry about getting to the polls.

“It was just so wrong on so many levels to do that to another person. To have a party, a group of people, think that they have the right to call me and others to tell me that I could not exercise my right to vote… It was designed to make me think that I didn’t have to go”

Lewis added, “Here in Maryland we feel that it’s important to work for the vote of every constituent here in the state, rather than thinking of ways to game the system and keeping people from voting.”

Paul Schurick says his conviction has changed politics in the state.

“In terms of any type of sort of extreme rhetoric or some of the communications that typically come out of political campaigns, I think that’s now a thing of the past… Trust me, political professionals in Maryland are very, very aware of the outcome of this trial and the consequences," he said.

Schurick’s attorneys have filed a motion for a new trial, based on new evidence that has come to light, and a hearing for that has not yet been scheduled. Schurick’s accused co-conspirator, political consultant Julius Henson, is scheduled to go to trial later this month.