ANNAPOLIS, MD – A jury reached verdicts of not guilty on both counts in the trial of Dennis Fusaro and Stephen Waters today in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, ending a prosecution based on automatic phone calls—or “robocalls”—that were made before the 2014 election. Maryland prosecutors alleged that Fusaro and Waters sponsored the calls and failed to include the proper disclaimers under state campaign finance law, ostensibly to identify the sponsors of the call. The Pillar of Law Institute provided two briefs in this trial, arguing that the charges against Fusaro and Waters were unconstitutional abridgments of free speech under the First Amendment.
“Maryland’s campaign finance laws are an indecipherable, unconstitutional mess,” said Benjamin Barr, Pillar President and co-author of the institute’s briefs. “Particularly in this case, the prosecutors claimed Fusaro and Waters needed to include a disclaimer, but refused to disclose just what that disclaimer was supposed to say.”
A judge in a previous bench trial found Fusaro and Waters guilty of misdemeanors and sentenced them each to 30 days in jail and $1,000 fines. This second trial afforded a jury.
“You cannot just charge two citizens for speaking, say ‘disclosure,’ and send them to jail,” said Stephen Klein, Pillar attorney and co-author of the briefs. “This case amounted to nothing more than censorship. The jury got it right, and saw the corrupt result of what far too many prosecutors, professors and pundits call ‘campaign finance reform.’”
At both trials, Fusaro and Waters were represented by attorneys Mandeep Chhabra, John Garza, Christopher Kachouroff and Graven Craig.
“We were honored to join a distinguished legal team and vindicate free speech,” said Barr. “Our only concern is that these laws will remain on the books. While Fusaro and Waters are free, prosecutors still have the power to try and punish other citizens for their speech, and the next jury might fall for the prosecutors’ ploy.”
The Pillar of Law Institute is a nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C. that educates the public about their First Amendment rights and defends citizens against investigations and prosecutions that abridge these rights.