Judge dismisses charges in GOP phone jamming case

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- A federal judge has dismissed the latest charges against a former Republican official who was cleared of taking part in a plot to jam Democratic phone lines in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002.

District Judge George Singal agreed with attorneys for James Tobin and ruled on Wednesday that bringing new charges against the former GOP political organizer qualified as a vindictive prosecution.

The vindictive prosecution doctrine places constitutional limits on prosecutors' discretion. Singal said those limits were exceeded in Tobin's case.

The judge's decision came less than two weeks after a hearing on a motion by Tobin's attorneys to dismiss the indictment against Tobin.

Tobin was indicted in October by a federal grand jury in Portland on two counts of making false statements about the phone-jamming incident to an FBI agent.

Tobin, 48, was convicted in December 2005 by a federal jury in Concord, N.H., of being part of a conspiracy to jam get-out-the-vote phone banks run by state Democrats and a nonpartisan firefighters union on Election Day 2002.

Republican Rep. John Sununu defeated then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, in a close Senate race that day.

At the time, Tobin, of Bangor, was a regional director for the Republican National Committee. He was acquitted on the more serious charge of violating residents' constitutional right to vote.

In 2007, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned his conviction on the phone jamming charge, ruling that the telephone harassment statute was not a good fit for what Tobin had been convicted of doing. As it became clear to prosecutors that Tobin's acquittal would be upheld by the 1st Circuit, the government decided to pursue false statements charges.

"This will not do," wrote Singal.

"A loss on appeal may occasion the consideration of new charges, but it cannot justify the government's decision to bring those charges. To rebut a presumption of vindictiveness, the government must offer more," the judge said in his ruling.

The judge said that reasons given to rebut a presumption of vindictiveness, such as newly discovered evidence or intervening criminal activity, were absent in this case.

Prosecutors have two weeks to decide whether to appeal the decision.

Calls seeking comment from the U.S. Attorney's office in Portland were referred to a Justice Department spokesman in Washington, Andrew Levchuk, who did not immediately return a message.

Information from: Bangor Daily News, http://www.bangornews.com

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