Nation - Ohio State Supreme Court rejects Republican fundraiser's appeal Only 3 judges made up majority

By Julie Carr Smyth

AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A closely divided Ohio Supreme Court has rejected an effort by a former Republican fundraiser to overturn his conviction in a state investment scandal.

The court on Wednesday declined to hear an appeal from Tom Noe, whose conviction was at the center of a political melee that engulfed Ohio Republicans five years ago.

Just three justices made up the majority in the decision. Two justices, including Chief Justice Eric Brown, dissented. Two others, Maureen O'Connor and Judith Lanzinger, recused themselves because they had received campaign funds from either Noe or his ex-wife.

Prosecutors said Noe used state money to pay off business loans and to fund a lavish lifestyle, including the renovation of his Florida Keys home. Noe was allotted $50 million to invest for the state injured worker insurance fund, which he put into such questionable items as rare coins, Beanie babies and other collectibles.

Lawyers for Noe argued that his case was prejudiced by "unceasing and aggressive" news coverage of the scandal at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and the resulting "public clamor."

"Public outcries ought not to be allowed to substitute for evidence of guilt, but that is what occurred in this case," they wrote in pleading Noe's case. A message seeking comment was left with Noe's attorney, Richard Kerger.

Noe, a former rare coin dealer in Toledo, is serving 18 years in prison for stealing from a state investment fund. He also was ordered to pay a $139,000 fine, $13.7 million in restitution and $2.9 million in reimbursement to the state.

He was convicted in 2006 of charges including aggravated theft and engaging in a pattern in corrupt activity for his handling of a $50 million rare-coin investment fund for the bureau.

Noe also served about two years in a federal prison for illegally funneling $45,000 to President George W. Bush's 2003 re-election campaign.

The scandal's tentacles touched other top GOP figures in the state. Then-Gov. Bob Taft and his chief of staff were convicted on ethics reporting violations. There were 19 convictions in all.

The Supreme Courts's decision was its first in a high-profile political case since the death of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer shook the court's all-Republican make-up. Brown took his place in May after being appointed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

Brown faces O'Connor in the race for chief justice this fall. Moyer was in line to step down due to age limits.

Lanzinger is seeking re-election. Noe was her campaign manager in 2004.

Published: Thu, Jun 10, 2010