Court can’t find impartial jury after first day of selection in Noe trial

By John Seewer The Associated Press

TOLEDO – Prosecutors and lawyers for a once-prominent Republican fundraiser charged with stealing from the state’s investment in rare coins began screening potential jurors yesterday, with five of the first 10 dismissed after they said they believed the defendant was guilty.

The five said they had made up their minds about coin dealer Tom Noe based on what they’ve read in the newspaper.

“I personally think he should be held accountable,” one man said.

Noe is accused of stealing at least $2 million from a $50 million rare coin investment he managed for the state. His attorneys have argued that intense media coverage will make it hard for Noe to get a fair trial in Lucas County.

The trial got started in the closely watched case just four weeks before a critical statewide election in which Noe is being painted as the embodiment of the state’s broader political scandal.

Democrats say the trial will show how Republicans have used their influence to create a culture of corruption, including how Noe, 52, used his political connections to land the investment by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

The scandal has raised the Democrats’ hopes of retaking the governorship for the first time in 12 years.

The GOP controls the governor’s office and most statewide elected positions. But the Democratic candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, holds a double-digit lead over Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in the polls.

Noe has pleaded not guilty to theft, money laundering, forgery and a corrupt activity charge.

A state audit said Noe funneled the money into his own businesses, spent some remodeling his Florida Keys home and loaned money to friends.

His defense attorney, John Mitchell, pressed some potential jurors about whether they already had formed opinions about Noe, who faces up to 10 years in prison on the corrupt activity charge.

“Mr. Noe’s life is riding on this,” Mitchell said.

About 60 prospective jurors filled out three-page questionnaires that asked them whether they had any thoughts about the case against Noe and whether they collect rare coins.

“It’s been in the news a long time,” one woman said. “I truly do not think I can be impartial.”

One man who was excused said his daughter dated Noe’s son. Another woman said her friend lost a job because of Noe’s dealing with the state.

Noe sat with his attorneys, smiling at some of the answers from the prospective jurors. Most said they had heard about the case or Noe. In all, 16 of the first 28 were dismissed.

Because of the large number already dismissed, the court asked for another group of jurors to be called in case they are needed.

The trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court is expected to last through Election Day on Nov. 7. Jury selection is expected to last through the week, with testimony beginning the next week.

Investigations into the bureau’s coin investment led to separate ethics charges against Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest last year to failing to report golf outings and other gifts. Four former Taft aides pleaded no contest to similar charges.