AG Gansler Secures $1 Million Judgment in Election Day Robocall Case
Julius Henson, Rhonda Russell and Universal Elections, Inc. held liable for violating Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Baltimore, MD (May 29, 2012) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today that the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, in a 13-page Memorandum, and in a separate Order, issued by Judge Catherine Blake, awarded the Office of the Attorney General $1,010,000 in damages for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") committed by Julius Henson, Henson's company, Universal Elections, Inc., and Rhonda Russell, an employee of the company.
"On the night of the 2010 election I vowed to discover who was responsible for these voter suppression robocalls and hold the perpetrators responsible," said Attorney General Gansler. "With this verdict, that is exactly what we have done."
This case stems from the Election Day robocall that was written, recorded and sent by Henson and Russell on behalf of the 2010 campaign of gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. The message, which was sent to more than 112,000 Democratic voters in Prince George's County and Baltimore City, stated:
"Hello. I'm calling to let everyone know that Governor O'Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct and we took it back. We're okay. Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations and thank you."
Absent from the message was the name and address or phone number of the party that initiated the call, which violates the TCPA. In its Memorandum, the District Court concluded that "the purpose of the message was to suppress the votes of the largely African-American and Democratic populations in Baltimore City and Prince George's County."
In her Order, Judge Blake concluded both Russell and Henson were aware of the requirements of TCPA that a campaign identify itself, but that Henson and Russell knowingly violated the statute. According to the Court, "without any doubt Henson discussed plans to suppress the votes of African-American Democrats, recorded the plan in [a] strategy memo sent to the Ehrlich campaign, and ultimately dictated and authorized the offending message."
The Court awarded damages against Julius Henson and Universal Elections in the amount of $1,000,000. It awarded a smaller amount, $10,000, against Russell, finding that her violations were committed as an employee of Universal Elections while acting under the direction of Mr. Henson. In support of its damage award, the Court observed that Henson's efforts "damaged public faith in the democratic process that is at the core of our system of government."
"Voter suppression in Maryland will not be tolerated," said Attorney General Gansler. "The Court's Opinion and damages award will hopefully make political consultants think twice before using these types of illegal dirty tricks again."