Court Overturns Phone Jamming Conviction

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

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(03-21) 16:13 PDT Concord, N.H. (AP) --

A federal appeals court on Wednesday reversed the conviction and sentence of a former Republican National Committee official accused in a phone-jamming plot on Election Day 2002.

James Tobin, the former regional chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign, was convicted in 2005 of helping to arrange more than 800 hang-up calls that jammed get-out-the-vote phone lines set up by the state Democratic Party and the Manchester firefighters' union for about an hour. Republican John Sununu defeated then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen for the Senate that day.

Tobin was sentenced to 10 months in prison on charges of telephone harassment.

But the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled that the statute under which Tobin was convicted "is not a close fit" for what Tobin did and questioned whether the government showed that Tobin intended to harass. A Justice Department spokesman said prosecutors were reviewing the decision, and did not say if they planned to appeal.

"Oh my God, wow, you know sometimes there is no justice," said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan.

Messages seeking comment were left with Tobin and his attorneys.

"We are pleased for Jim and his family," said Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, which paid for Tobin's defense. He declined to comment further.

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

The jamming has led to four criminal prosecutions, a lawsuit and a recent flurry of political attacks.

Tobin was convicted of putting the executive director of the state's Republican Party in touch with the head of a Virginia-based telemarketing firm, who hired another telemarketing firm to place the hundreds of hang-up calls. A co-owner of that firm at the time, Shaun Hansen, of Spokane, Wash., pleaded guilty in November to a conspiracy charge and to making the calls and awaits sentencing.

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.


Associated Press Writer Philip Elliott contributed to this story.


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