Federal appeals court backs acquittal of GOP’s Tobin

Posted Jan. 09, 2009, at 7:16 p.m.

A federal appeals court has upheld last year’s acquittal of a former Republican Party official from Bangor on telephone harassment charges stemming from a plot to jam Democratic Party phones in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002.

In an opinion issued on Wednesday, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston affirmed a Feb. 21, 2008, ruling by U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe clearing James Tobin, 48, of Bangor.

In his decision, McAuliffe said he had been “constrained” by a 2007 appeals court ruling to conclude that Tobin was entitled to acquittal, noting that Tobin’s actions did not fit the specific law he was convicted of violating.

Federal prosecutors appealed McAuliffe’s decision the next month.

Tobin, the former regional chairman of President Bush’s re-election campaign, was convicted in federal court in 2005 of helping arrange more than 800 hang-up calls that jammed get-out-the-vote phone lines set up by the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the Manchester firefighters’ union for about an hour.

At the time of the phone jamming, Tobin was a regional official with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, overseeing Senate campaigns in several states. He went on to serve as President Bush’s New England re-election campaign chairman in 2004, but resigned after the allega-tions surfaced.

Phone records from Tobin’s trial show he made two dozen calls to the White House political office right around Election Day 2002, as the phone-jamming operation was carried out and abruptly shut down.

Despite this week’s opinion, Tobin is not yet out of the woods, legally speaking.

On Oct. 9 of last year, Tobin was indicted by a federal grand jury in Portland, just days before the statute of limitations would have prevented prosecutors from charging him with lying to federal investigators about his role in the jamming scandal.

Tobin was charged with two counts of making false and fraudulent statements to an FBI agent on Oct. 14, 2003, when he was interviewed about the phone-jamming scheme.

Tobin pleaded not guilty to the charge on Nov. 5, 2008, and was released on his own recognizance. A trial date for the new charge has yet to be set.

Efforts to reach Jay McCloskey, the Bangor lawyer who is representing Tobin in Maine, were unsuccessful Friday.

BDN writer Judy Harrison and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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