The legality of Julius Henson’s candidacy for state Senate is now a matter of heated public debate, particularly since a Baltimore Circuit judge recently ruled that he violated the terms of his probation. The previous operative for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R) is challenging longtime Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden for the District 45 seat. Less than two years ago, political consultant Henson was convicted of trying to suppress African-American votes in Baltimore and Prince George’s County during the 2010 gubernatorial election via robocalls plagued with misinformation.
After serving a month in jail during the summer of 2012, Henson was released on three years’ probation. At that time, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Emanuel Brown ordered that Henson “shall not work in any political campaign paid/volunteer…,” according to court documents.
Henson’s eligibility as a candidate is not in question, legal experts said. “I don’t know of any law in Maryland that excludes people who have been convicted of crime from running for office,” said Larry Gibson, an election law expert and University of Maryland professor. “But that may be academic,” he added. “Black voters are more likely to vote for someone convicted of bank robbery than someone convicted of what, to African Americans, is an unpardonable sin, that is, voter suppression.”
The state’s real challenge to Henson’s candidacy, however, is whether the terms of his probation only prohibit him from working for another person’s campaign and not from running for office, himself. According to Gerard Shields, a spokesperson for the Maryland correctional system, Henson’s probation officer alerted the court of the potential breach when she learned he was running for a seat in the General Assembly and was campaigning towards that end.
The court issued a summons for Henson to appear on the violation charge. At a hearing on Feb. 27, Judge Brown declared him to be in violation of his probation since the original order barred Henson from working on “any” campaign. Henson has to serve the remaining four months of his original sentence; however, he remains out of custody pending an appeal. His probation was ended. The candidate has declared his intention to keep on running until his legal fate is decided. “I will continue to run and consult,” Henson told reporters outside the courthouse, according to a video recording by WBAL-TV.
Henson’s lawyer Russell Neverdon told reporters he believes the ruling is a mere bump in the road and that they will prevail in appeal. “He (Judge Brown) acknowledges this is probably a case of first impression; there are some gray areas and nuances that have to be addressed,” Neverdon said in the WBAL-TV recording. “And, at the end of the day, we do believe we’re going to be successful based on the case law that’s available.”
Veteran Baltimore attorney A. Dwight Pettit, who defended Henson’s co-defendant, Ehrlich’s then-campaign manager Paul Schurick, said he does not believe Henson has broken any laws. “I don’t think Judge Brown’s order restricts him from being a candidate. As I read it, I don’t believe that ‘working’ for a campaign is equivalent to being a candidate – it is two very different things,” Pettit said.
Judge Brown’s ruling, Petit said, ventures into murky legal territory. “When you try to restrict him from running for public office it goes into dangerous Constitutional waters,” Pettit said.