CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A federal judge on Thursday acquitted former Republican Party official James Tobin in the 2002 Election Day phone-jamming case in New Hampshire, but said the case will return to an appeals court for further review.

Tobin, of Bangor, Maine, was scheduled for a new trial this week on phone harassment charges. A jury had convicted him in 2005, but the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year overturned the conviction and sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe.

At issue was whether Tobin’s actions fit the specific law he was convicted of violating.

On Thursday, McAuliffe ruled that they did not.

“There is little point in extended discussion here because the issue is close and it is purely a question of law which, as a practical matter, will ultimately be decided by the Court of Appeals,” he wrote.

A key point was the meaning of the words “harass” and “intent” in the statute. McAuliffe on Thursday said that while the jamming was intended to suppress Democratic votes, prosecutors had not shown that Tobin “specifically intended to provoke adverse emotional reactions in the people at the telephone numbers called.” Based on the language of the law, the evidence did not prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge said.

Tobin was implicated in an operation masterminded by former state GOP executive director Charles McGee to use hundreds of hang-up phone calls to tie up get-out-the-vote and ride-to-the-polls phone lines at Democratic Party offices and a Manchester firefighters union office on Election Day 2002.

The election featured a U.S. Senate race won by Republican John Sununu over Democrat Jeanne Shaheen – an election that will be replayed this year.

Phone messages left for Tobin, lawyers in the case and representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties in New Hampshire were not immediately returned Thursday night.

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 allegations surfaced.

The jamming has led to four criminal prosecutions and a civil lawsuit that was settled with Republicans paying the Democrats $135,000. The Democrats had sought $4.1 million.

Two people pleaded guilty to criminal charges: McGee and Allen Raymond, then head of GOP Marketplace, a telemarketing firm in Alexandria, Va.. Both served jail time.

Shaun Hansen, who was co-owner of the Idaho company that made the hang-up calls, withdrew a guilty plea and is scheduled to be tried in May.

Tobin was convicted of putting McGee in touch with Raymond, who hired Hansen’s telemarketing firm to place the calls.

Phone records introduced at Tobin’s trial show he made two dozen calls to the White House political office within three days around Election Day 2002, as the phone-jamming operation was finalized, carried out and abruptly shut down. The calls lasted for about 90 minutes.

AP-ES-02-21-08 1948EST


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