CLEVELAND – Lawyers for former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora,who was convicted in a huge bribery scandal, are asking a federal appeals court to reverse his convictions and order a new trial because, they say, the first one was fundamentally unfair.
Attorney Christian Grostic focuses in large part on the decision of the trial judge, Sara Lioi, to deny Dimora’s defense attorneys the chance to introduce his state ethics reports at the trial.
Dimora’s appeal says the judge originally said she would allow the reports in – but then changed her mind after Dimora’s lawyers had already told the jury they would see the reports.
Dimora contended the reports showed that he wasn’t hiding what was given to him – and that they were gifts, and not bribes.
The appeal indicates that, in essence, the judge changed the rules of the game after the trial had begun – effectively denying Dimora a fair trial.
It is a complex question involving what’s known as the “hearsay” rule. Dimora can’t put the reports in to show they are true unless someone testifies to that fact – someone the government can cross-examine.
Dimora did not take the witness stand.
But Dimora’s lawyers contend the reports were not being introduced to show that the gifts were truly made – only that Dimora reported receiving gifts.
His attorney say the point was to show the Dimora was not operating in secret, as the government alleged.
Back in 2007, the FOX 8 I-Team first broke the story of a federal investigation into corruption inside Cuyahoga County government.
Dimora was seen as the kingpin in a massive corruption scandal where most other officials eventually entered guilty pleas.
But Dimora maintained his innocence, went to trial – and lost big.
He was sentenced to more than 25 years in federal prison.
Dimora’s appeal says the government’s case that he “acted with criminal intent was weak.”
It also indicates that the government was, in essence, mistaking what is a bribe and what is a gift.
It also asserts that “lobbying is not bribery unless a public official agrees that payments will influence a specific act.”
All the written briefs have now been filed.
Prosecutors and Dimora’s lawyers will next get to present their cases in oral arguments before the court.
A three-judge panel will then issue its ruling.