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Published: Saturday, 7/25/2009

Ms. Noe shocked by speed of court case

Tom and Bernadette Noe talk in 2006 before he was convicted. A Florida judge granted the dissolution of their marriage Thursday, but the Noes remain best of friends, Ms. Noe said. Tom and Bernadette Noe talk in 2006 before he was convicted. A Florida judge granted the dissolution of their marriage Thursday, but the Noes remain best of friends, Ms. Noe said.

In September, 2006, Blade columnist Roberta de Boer spent two days conducting exclusive interviews at the Key Largo, Fla., oceanfront home of Bernadette Noe, the then-wife of Tom Noe, a fund-raiser for former President George W. Bush, former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, and numerous other local, state, and national Republican candidates.

Tom Noe has since been transferred from a federal prison in Florida, where he served a 27-month sentence for illegally contributing to Mr. Bush's campaign, to a state prison in southern Ohio, where he is serving an 18-year sentence for stealing $13 million from rare-coin funds he managed for the state's injured workers' fund.

Ms. de Boer interviewed Ms. Noe again yesterday, the day after the Noes were granted a dissolution by a Florida judge. Below are excerpts from the 25-minute telephone interview:

Q: Was it you or Tom who wanted to end the marriage?

A: I'll clarify that we reached this amicably. This was a dissolution, not a contested divorce. It was a mutual dissolution. We're still the best of friends.

Q: What prompted the marriage to end?

A: I won't answer that. I think the thing that really caught me off-guard was that I got this decision via fax [Thursday]. I didn't know it was coming. So I sat on it until I could speak to Tom, because I didn't want anyone to know until he knew. So I had to wait for him to call. And I spoke to him [Thursday] night, and that was a private conversation.

It was late, so I didn't inform the children or the rest of the family until I got a phone call from the Columbus Dispatch this morning. I hadn't yet spoken to the family. They knew it was coming, but not to expect the media onslaught. That's what I find to be the most intrusive. I've gotten ahold of them [the couple's blended family of late-teen and adult children], and they've all been talking among themselves.

Q: When did you begin to discuss all this?

A: A long time ago. Let's just say within the last six months. But it's just not anything I'm going to discuss.

Q: Did you get the fax at work or home?

A: At my law office. [Ms. Noe is in private practice with a Key Largo firm.] It was very shocking. I had just been at the [Monroe County, Florida] courthouse on a hearing the afternoon before.

Q: The case was filed barely a week before it was finalized. Is it unusual in your jurisdiction to have a dissolution settled that quickly?

A: I tell my clients that, historically, if you agree on everything, no. I asked my partner yesterday, 'Is this the fastest one ever?' 'Oh no, we've had faster.' But I wasn't expecting it. I've been crying most of the day.

Q: When was the last time you saw Tom? [Noe is serving time at Ohio's Hocking Correctional Facility.]

A: July 3.

Q: What was that visit like? Was it meant as a farewell visit?

A: That was part of it. I was there for two days; I spent two days with him.

Q: What was your time together like? Did you laugh, cry, what?

A: We always cry.

Q: What was last night like for you, after you'd spoken with Tom?

A: I just remember talking to the kids, and kind of just, yeah, I guess bittersweet. The kids and I just sat and were thinking of all the good things. One of the kids wanted to talk about the fun things, so we did that.

The kids adore their dad. I want them to continue to adore him. I've encouraged them to maintain and strengthen their relationship with him. Remember, we have five kids between us. And they have been raised as a sibling group for 16 years.

Q: What will the family constellation be like now?

A: The way we raised the children, they will remain a sibling group. They made that commitment to each other.

Q: Will you still visit him?

A: Yes, I will. I still fervently believe in his innocence, and I'll do what little I can to support him through the appeals process. We talk a couple of times a week, and we write.

Q: In Marie Claire magazine, you said you learned that Tom was unfaithful during your marriage, and that you'd considered divorce. But you also said he coaxed you into staying, and that you used a Christian self-help book to work on the marriage. Was all that part of this week's dissolution decision?

A: I don't want to focus on the affair. I don't want to talk about it. It's terribly private and terribly painful. But the book was Fireproof. I've been recommending it to my clients.

Q: Are you still trying to sell your house?

A: I'm still in the house, and it's still on the market. The one thing that drives me crazy is that everyone wants to report it's a $5 million house, and it's currently appraised at $2.6 [million]. And it's upside down.

Q: So, you owe more on the house than it's currently worth?

A: Yes. And I'm so tired of everyone thinking I've escaped with this huge asset. It's been awhile since I've even had any lookers, and now hurricane season is coming.

Q: How is Tom doing in prison?

A: He's typical Tom, doing wonderfully. He's very thin. He's lost a lot of weight. Works out, reads a lot of books, writes a lot of letters. It's kind of funny, it's like "Little Toledo" down there. You've got Father [Gerald] Robinson, John Ulmer, Tom Noe, and sometimes they've all been in the visiting room at the same time.

It's a very, very small visiting room. The difference between the federal facility where he was at and [the state prison] where he is now is like the difference between going from grad school to kindergarten. It's very laid back, very relaxed. I mean, it's still got barbed wire, but nothing like he had endured. But at this point, with the house upside down, I just don't have the finances [to visit often].

Q: Are you dating at all?

A: No.

Q: Would you say the dissolution was more of a financial or an emotional decision?

A: I don't know if you can ever say one is one without the other. In all the years [as an attorney that] I've been doing divorce, I don't think I've ever had one [a divorce] that's just one or the other.

Q: So none of this should be construed as an attempt to maneuver or shelter any assets?

A [Laughing]: Absolutely not. There's nothing to shelter. [Then, turning serious:] You have to understand that I was given a full release in the settlement of the civil suit from the state of Ohio. From everything.

Q: What name will you use from now on?

A: I did not petition for a name change.

Q: So you're still Bernadette Noe?

A: That's right.

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