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Published: Wednesday, 3/1/2006

Noe wants 10 county judges off coin case

BY MIKE WILKINSON AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS To hear Tom Noe tell it, his efforts to awaken a moribund local Republican Party led to watershed gains by the GOP in Lucas County and had a profound effect on the party s takeover of statewide offices.

Now, because of those ferocious partisan efforts, Mr. Noe has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to disqualify all of the county s 10 common pleas judges from hearing his criminal case.

It is my belief that I cannot and will not receive a fair and impartial hearing before any judge of the Lucas County Common Pleas Court as a result of my singular, unprecedented, and extraordinary level of involvement in their political, professional, and personal lives, Mr. Noe wrote in a 27-page affidavit that details nearly 20 years of local political history.

Referencing decades-old social relationships and recent political battles, Mr. Noe s affidavit lists in specific detail why the judges are political enemies or personal friends.

Both categories, Mr. Noe said he believes, make the judges ineligible to hear his 53 felony-count theft, forgery, and racketeering case.

Mr. Noe has pleaded not guilty to the charges stemming from his handling of $50 million in coin funds for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. A trial date has not been set.

Judge Thomas Osowik, who is presiding over the Noe case, has 15 days to respond to the disqualification request, Supreme Court spokesman Chris Davey said.

Under state law, Chief Justice Thomas Moyer will rule on Mr. Noe s motion. He could rule solely on Judge Osowik or the entire Lucas County bench. If Judge Osowik is disqualified, the administrative judge of the Common Pleas Court, Judge James Bates, would select a judge to hear the case.

If Chief Justice Moyer, a Republican, disqualifies the entire Lucas County bench, then he would appoint a visiting judge.

After word about the affidavit surfaced yesterday, courthouse employees were eager to find copies. The details elicited laughter from some, but mostly no comment from the judges mentioned by Mr. Noe.

Judge Bates said, It makes for good reading.

Judge Bates said he felt that there are judges in the county who could impartially hear the case.

There s more than several judges who could be available to handle the case if, for whatever reason, the Supreme Court decides that Judge Osowik cannot handle the case, he said.

For much of his affidavit, Mr. Noe recounts the roles that he and his wife, Bernadette, played in transforming the county Republican party. He claims to have helped current Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery get elected as Ohio attorney general in 1994, helped the GOP take over the statehouse by getting the late John Garcia elected to the Ohio House, and helped get three Republicans elected to Toledo City Council.

He repeatedly touts how he and his wife worked to get Republican judges elected in the county and how those efforts made them the scourge of Democrats but the friends of Republicans.

Indeed, the ferocity and determination with which my wife, Bernadette Restivo Noe, and I set out to achieve our goal of displacing the entrenched majority Democratic political establishment of Lucas County especially as it has historically existed on the Lucas County Common Pleas Court bench has resulted in what can only be described as a singular and acute animus against us on the part of Democrats in Lucas County, including the majority of judges on the bench, Mr. Noe wrote in his sworn affidavit.

Mr. Noe also takes credit for exacerbating the ongoing rift between the two factions of Lucas County Democrats. He says his support for former Democratic Lucas County Commissioner Harry Barlos was calculated to agitate the Democrats. The ploy, he said, to have the local Republican Party endorse Mr. Barlos worked and inflamed the battle among Democrats.

Rarely have we come across someone as politically active as Mr. Noe. It s a very rare situation, said William Wilkinson, Mr. Noe s Columbus attorney.

Mr. Wilkinson said the issue of whether Mr. Noe can receive a fair trial in Lucas County is a separate one from the motion filed late on Monday. The current motion deals only with who the judge should be, he said.

Several of Mr. Noe s claims, however, don t match up with the facts.

For instance, he states that the Barlos-Pete Gerken rift had the desired effect of aiding the Lucas County Republican Party . In fact, Democrats retained both commission seats in 2004.

Mr. Noe also claims to have helped Judge Charles Doneghy s opponent in 1994, but Judge Doneghy ran unopposed that year. For other judges, Mr. Noe talks about helping to fund their Republican opponents in hotly contested races when Democrats won by overwhelming percentages.

The Ohio GOP, which has tried for more than 10 months to distance itself from one of its most loyal supporters and prolific fund-raisers, said Mr. Noe was overstating his party role.

Tom Noe spent the last few years deceiving Republicans, and now it seems that he s deceiving himself in regards to his influence, said John McClelland, the Ohio Republican Party spokesman.

State Rep. Chris Redfern, an Ottawa County Democrat who is also chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said there s always some exaggeration when a criminal defendant files a motion, but he said Mr. Noe is correct in assessing his political track record.

He is largely responsible for electing most of the Republican Lucas County bench. He is largely responsible for the success of Betty Montgomery in 1994. I was helping Lee Fisher s campaign. I was a county commissioner. I understood Tom Noe possessed a tremendous amount of skills and acumen, Mr. Redfern said.

Mr. Noe is facing felony charges in Lucas County of stealing from the state coin funds that he managed, and federal felony charges that he illegally funneled more than $45,000 into President Bush s re-election campaign.

A special state audit released last week stated that Mr. Noe and one of his partners owes the state more than $13.5 million that they either took from the coin funds or failed to pay back in profits to the state.

Mr. Noe said his involvement in judicial races in Lucas County went beyond mere donations of money or statements of public support.

For example, Mr. Noe said in the late 1990s he and his wife helped Sam Thurber, the husband of Lucas County commissioner Maggie Thurber, file a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court against Judge Osowik, arising out of what we believed to be his improper use of the Law Enforcement Agency/Area Data System, or LEADS, to help Democrats get confidential information about their GOP opponents.

The Supreme Court s office of disciplinary counsel did not file a formal complaint related to the allegations against Judge Osowik.

There was no determination of probable cause, which is substantial, credible evidence of misconduct, Lori Brown, first assistant disciplinary counsel, said yesterday.

The Noes also take credit for helping to get Judge Jack Zouhary appointed to the federal bench by President Bush. Judge Zouhary recently had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting the next step in his nomination process.

Mr. Noe said the voluntary recusal of five of the Supreme Court justices in the public records lawsuit that The Blade filed last year seeking the coin funds inventories stands as a precedent and requires that the judges on the bench be held to no lower standard.

Judge Bates, referring to the decision by the justices, suggested they had more conflicts than his peers in Lucas County.

There s probably more Supreme Court justices who would be questionable than the 10 of us, he said.

Staff writer Steve Eder contributed to this report.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at: mwilkinson@theblade.com or 419-724-6104.



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