A Lucas County judge has defended himself against charges that he is biased against Tom Noe and says he should not be disqualified from presiding over the theft, forgery, and racketeering case.
Judge Thomas Osowik, in a letter received by the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday, rejected claims that Mr. Noe's political efforts to defeat him were enough to force his removal from the case.
The judge also noted a number of inaccuracies in Mr. Noe's affidavit, including when he was appointed a judge. It was in 1991, he wrote, not in the "mid-1980s" as Mr. Noe claimed.
"In summary, I do not believe that anything contained in this defendant's affidavit would substantiate a finding of bias and prejudice that would render me unable to continue to serve on this case as the trial judge," Mr. Osowik said.
Mr. Noe's attorneys asked the Supreme Court Feb. 28 to disqualify Judge Osowik as well as the other nine members of the county bench. He said most were either Democrats and political enemies or Republicans who were close personal friends.
Yesterday, while waiting for an answer from the high court, Judge Osowik presided over a brief hearing at which Mr. Noe was present. The only action was the setting of another hearing date, March 17.
Judge Osowik said he could not hold the hearing until the Supreme Court responds to Mr. Noe's request and his response.
Mr. Noe has been charged with 53 felony counts of theft, forgery, and engaging in a criminal enterprise. He has pleaded not guilty and is out on $500,000 bond.
The charges stem from claims that he stole and laundered more than $3 million from the two coin funds he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
An accounting firm working for Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery has said Mr. Noe and his associates owe more than $13.5 million to the state. Lucas County prosecutors have said they did not charge Mr. Noe with more counts because it could have made the case too complicated for jurors.
In his filing with the Supreme Court, Mr. Noe outlined his activities to defeat various judges with money and strategy. He said he could not get a fair trial because of the "singular, unprecedented, and extraordinary level of involvement" in the judges' careers.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer is expected to rule on Mr. Noe's motion. If Judge Osowik is disqualified, the administrative judge of the Common Pleas Court, Judge James Bates, would select a judge to hear the case.
Last week, Judge Bates wrote to the court, saying that none of the other nine judges have had an opportunity to respond and requests that the disqualification request be stricken.
Judge Bates has said that he believes a number of county judges are well qualified to hear the case. If Chief Justice Moyer, a Republican, disqualifies the entire Lucas County bench, he would appoint a visiting judge.
In his response, Judge Osowik issued a point-by-point answer to the Noe claims, saying they are irrelevant or meaningless.
For instance, Mr. Noe said his wife, Bernadette Restivo Noe, was once a Democrat who served on the "Lucas County Democratic Party Judicial Screening Committee" and voted against his appointment in the mid-1980s.
Judge Osowik said, however, he was appointed to the bench in 1991, that the screening committee was composed solely of lawyers, and that Ms. Noe didn't become an lawyer until 10 years later. "The expressed or unexpressed opinions of a defendant's wife would not be relevant to this proceeding," the judge wrote.
He also offered a history lesson in his filing. While Mr. Noe drew upon 20 years of local political history, Judge Osowik went back to ancient times.
"A defendant's assertion that he is an enemy of the judge, political or otherwise, is nothing new and undoubtedly dates back to when judicial tribunals were first established in ancient biblical times," he wrote.
Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.
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