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Published: Thursday, 6/10/2010

High court in Columbus won't review Noe verdicts

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Tom Noe's hopes of getting out of prison anytime soon were dashed yesterday when the Ohio Supreme Court opted not to hear an appeal of his theft and corruption convictions.

Without comment, the high court ruled against the former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, who had argued that he didn't receive a fair trial in the wake of a scandal that had political ramifications statewide.

His state appeals exhausted, Noe will pin his hopes on constitutional arguments before a federal court.

"The denial was obviously one of two outcomes that could have happened," said Noe's Toledo attorney, Rick Kerger. "We know what the plan has been. We planned to go to federal habeas corpus."

Noe is serving the second year of an 18-year sentence for his 2006 convictions connected with the theft of $13 million from $50 million in rare-coin investments that he operated for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. He was convicted of 29 charges of corruption, theft, money laundering, and tampering with records.

The Toledo-based 6th District Court of Appeals upheld his convictions on Dec. 31.

The Blade first reported in April, 2005, on Noe's investment deal, triggering a multiyear state probe that uncovered massive corruption at the BWC and led to charges against more than 20 public officials and money managers.

With Noe's political connections stretching from the governor's residence to the White House, the scandal was credited as one reason Ohio voters swept Republicans from every statewide elected office except one a year later.

All five justices who considered the case refused to hear the appeal based on nine of the 11 grounds Noe had raised.

However, the vote was 4-1 specifically on Noe's argument that pretrial publicity violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. The trial judge had refused to grant him a change of venue.

Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Paul Pfeifer, and Robert Cupp, and Chief Justice Eric Brown, the court's sole Democrat, voted against hearing the appeal of these grounds. Justice Terrence O'Donnell dissented.

The court also voted 4-1 not to hear the case based on Noe's argument that the trial court relied on an unconstitutional law when it gave him a sentence beyond the statutory minimum. Chief Justice Brown dissented on that one.

Justices Maureen O'Connor and Judith Lanzinger, both on the ballot this year, did not participate in the case. Noe or his then-wife, Bernadette, had contributed to the campaigns of both in the past, and Noe had served as campaign manager for Justice Lanzinger, a fellow Toledoan, in 2004.

John Weglian, chief of the criminal division for the prosecutor's office, said he wasn't surprised that Noe would next try his luck with federal judges. But he said he doesn't see a federal judge sinking his teeth into Noe's argument that pretrial publicity violated his constitutional right to a fair trial.

"The judge conducted extensive voir dire of all jurors," he said. "It took almost a week to get a jury."

Dan Steinbock, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Toledo College of Law, said Noe would not be permitted to raise any issue in his federal petition than he did not air in state court.

"It's fair to say that less than 1 percent of federal habeas corpus petitions succeed," he said.

"The petitioner needs to establish that the state court made an unreasonable application of clearly established federal constitutional law. You can only bring [a] federal habeas corpus proceeding if you have claims of violation of the U.S. Constitution, which he apparently does."

Noe is incarcerated at Hocking Correctional Facility in southern Ohio. In addition to the prison sentence, he was ordered to pay $13.7 million in restitution, the cost of prosecution totaling nearly $3 million, and fines of $139,000.

He had previously completed a nearly two-year federal sentence in his conviction of using others to launder illegal campaign contributions to the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush.

The scandal remains an issue in Columbus and is likely to be resurrected as part of this year's Supreme Court races.

"One principal person has been held accountable for Coingate thus far - Tom Noe - and it's difficult for me to understand how you can have a conspiracy and only one person has served an extended period of time," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said. "I'd like to know what happened," Mr. Redfern said.

"There's still an open case within the inspector general's office. To date, no one from the inspector general's office has spoken to Tom Noe about what occurred.

"No legislative body has significantly looked into this."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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