Henson and Russell ordered to pay over a $1-million without having their day in court
As Rhonda Russell sat on her couch, the same one she was lying on when she received the instructions from her boss Julius Henson to whip up a last second robocall for the Ehrlich administration on Election Day in 2010; relieved that the criminal procedures involving the high-profile political case were completed, as she anxiously awaited her day in civil court – where her and Mr. Henson faced civil charges totaling $168 million apiece.
However, as she proceeded to open the day’s mail, she realized that she would never have her day in court, as the U.S. District Court of Maryland had issued a ‘summary judgment’ finding both Henson or Russell guilty without so much as a word from the two defendants. Issuing a 13-page opinion memorandum in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake ordered Henson, owner of Universal Elections, the company that was responsible for crafting the robocall, to pay $1 million and his employee Russell, who recorded the call itself and put together the list of recipients who would receive the call, to pay $10,000. Absent from the civil proceedings were the people ultimately responsible for the creation of the call, and the campaign operations responsible for not placing an ‘authority line’ on the call – Paul Schurick and the Robert Ehrlich for Governor Campaign.
“This is what you call a hang’em high trial that is simply a 21st century, modern day hanging of a successful black-owned company that defied the orders of the Democratic Party by working for the enemy – the Republicans,” says independent political analyst Shaun Louis. “How can someone who wasn’t even tried criminally, Ms. Russell, and the man who ultimately beat almost all the criminal charges brought against him Mr. Henson, found criminally liable in this case, and ordered to pay a ridiculous amount of money, when the people ultimately responsible, who were found guilty on each and every charge criminally [Paul Schurick] never even had a civil case brought against them? I’ll tell you how, because they ain’t black like Julius and Rhonda!”
Henson, the political architect of thousands of democratic political campaigns over the past decade, was hired by the former GOP Governor Robert Ehrlich’s campaign in 2010, to provide consulting services geared primarily to the African American communities of Maryland. His contract had ended the day before Election Day, yet was contacted mid-day on November 2nd, to help create a robocall intended to encourage Ehrlich supporters who had not yet voted, to get out to the polls; a counterintuitive strategy Henson contends worked. However, Democrats felt the 112,000 calls that were sent specifically to the African American dominated regions of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, were intended solely to suppress the black vote – thereby filing criminal charges against Henson and Schurick.
Paul Schurick, the Ehrlich campaign manager, was found guilty on all four charges brought against him in December 2011, yet Henson was recently acquitted of three of the four charges brought against him by a Baltimore City jury. After speaking with Julius by phone, he contends that he could not have been deposed for this civil case, as it was being conducted while he still faced criminal charges; therefore, he invoked his fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination, yet was still found guilty as all of his lawyer’s motions and objections were dismissed by Judge Blake. “I’m dumbfounded as to how the legal process and these procedures were conducted in getting this conviction, but am confident it will not stand,” says Henson, who has said he plans to appeal the measure, eventually having it heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Henson and Russell were found guilty of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a law that was passed by Congress, but stands to be tested in this case based on its obvious contradiction with someone’s 1st Amendment Rights to Free Speech. Both defendants remain the only two people targeted by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who filed the federal civil court charges almost immediately following the 2010 elections. “It’s obvious due-process was not used here, as it was an apparent Democratic lynching of two successful black political consultants who chose to benefit financially from a client regardless of their political party,” says Louis, who also contends that Henson was not even paid for the robocalls in question.
And while both Gansler and Judge Blake offered similar statements regarding political campaign styled-tricks not being tolerated, neither pointed to what Louis called an obvious lapse of judgment by the campaign, not the consulting company. “These political consultants get paid to craft a message for a particular campaign, that’s it. It is not their responsibility to tack on tag lines, or usually to even create a call list to where the calls go, that is left up to the campaign, who first check the language of the call, then create a specified call-list to where they want the calls to go, and is ultimately responsible for its dissemination and message.”
And while many would love to lay blame on these two African Americans for being responsible for these calls, others cannot understand how only these two individuals were targeted, nor the process in which they were found guilty. “I was a paralegal for eight years and apart of the political process for just as long, and I honestly cannot wrap my mind around how they pulled this one off,” says Baltimore political personality and commentator Catalina Byrd, regarding the civil verdict. “To me, and I’m sure a good majority of the black community, this verdict looks suspicious and vindictive to say the least!”
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