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Courts and Crime

Jimmy Dimora's appeal: Defining the difference between bribery and lobbying
Ex-Cuyahoga Commissioenr also says his trial judge blocked key evidence

Kevin Niedermier
Former Commissioner Jimmy Dimora says his corruption trial was unfair and is appealing.
Courtesy of Cuyahoga County
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A U.S. appeals court is deciding whether or not to overturn the corruption conviction of former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora.

Dimora’s attorney told the three-judge panel in Cincinnati today that the trial that resulted in a 28-year-prison sentence was unfair.

LISTEN: Laying out Dimora's appeal

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In 2012, a jury found Jimmy Dimora guilty of racketeering and 30 other corruption charges. Federal prosecutors said he accepted favors like meals, trips and home improvements in exchange for county contracts and help with court cases.

But his appeals attorney Christian Grostic says Dimora should be acquitted of some charges and given a new trial. Grostic contends the judge did not allow Dimora to present state ethics disclosure forms that would have proven he didn’t try to hide the gifts -- and therefore did not solicit or accept gifts knowing they were in exchange for official acts. But prosecutors say Dimora’s ethics forms are not accurate.

How much latitude do appeals courts have?
“When you look at an appeal, the first question is: Was the trial court given the chance to correct error. And the way we do that is either by motion or an objection, and I presume that was done here," says J. Dean Carro, a retired University of Akron law professor.

"The second level is somewhat more important, and that is the degree to which the court of appeals must defer to the trial court, meaning if the trial court, for example, made findings of fact, then the court of appeals is largely bound by that unless it finds the finding of fact to be clearly erroneous which is a very high standard.”              

Appeal says jury instruction was flawed
Dimora’s appeal also says that during jury instructions, the judge did not explain the difference between bribery and lobbying. Carro says it could be easier for his appeal attorney to prove this impacted the outcome.

“As for legal questions, for example jury instructions, the court of appeals is in an equal position with the trial court, meaning de novo review, review anew.  So there’s no deference paid to the trial court on legal questions because the appeals court can make those determinations just as easily.”  

Changing counsel
In his trial, Dimora’s lead attorney was Bill Whitaker. Carro says changing to attorney Grostic for the appeal was a good move.

“The reason for that is that in the heat of trial you’re concerned as trail council with so many different things, the jury’s perception, the court’s rulings, the witnesses. So it’s good to have a neutral, unbiased person review the record. What it also does is if there were any mistakes made by council, new council can raise those issues.”

A decision on the appeal could take a month or more. The 58-year old Dimora is in a federal prison in Oklahoma, and did not attend the hearing.

Lawyers for Dimora’s driver, Michael Gabor, also went before the appeals court, saying he did not receive a fair trial.

They contend his trial should have been separate from Dimora’s.  Gabor received a ten-year sentence. Altogether, the Cuyahoga County corruption probe resulted in more than 60 convictions, and led to voters scrapping the three commissioner form of government.                                                                                               

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