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Court tosses conviction in election phone plot

CONCORD, N.H. -- A federal appeals court reversed yesterday the conviction and sentence of James Tobin, a former Republican National Committee official who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for his role in an Election Day 2002 phone-jamming plot against New Hampshire Democrats.

Tobin, of Bangor, was convicted in December 2005 on two criminal charges of telephone harassment in the scheme, which tied up phone lines set up by the state Democratic Party and the Manchester firefighters' union for more than an hour the day that Republican John Sununu won a hotly contested US Senate race against Governor Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat.

The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled that the statute under which Tobin was convicted "is not a close fit" for what Tobin did -- it found that the trial judge's interpretation of the law was too broad -- and questioned whether the government showed that Tobin showed an intent or purpose to harass.

'Sometimes there is no justice," said Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "The fact of the matter is that the Republican state party and its people interfered with Election Day activities by jamming our phone lines, and it was wrong."

Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman, said prosecutors were reviewing the opinion and evaluating their options.

Sierra said he didn't expect prosecutors to make any decision yesterday.

Tobin, who was free pending his appeal, and four defense lawyers did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The jamming has led to four criminal prosecutions, and a lawsuit that was settled, with Republicans paying the Democrats $135,000. The Democrats had sought $4.1 million.

The three people who pleaded guilty to criminal charges were Charles McGee, executive director of the state Republican Party in 2002; Allen Raymond, then head of GOP Marketplace, a telemarketing firm in Alexandria, Va.; and Shaun Hansen, who was a co-owner of the Idaho company that made the hang-up calls.