updated 2/21/2008 7:20:11 PM ET 2008-02-22T00:20:11

A federal judge on Thursday acquitted former Republican Party official James Tobin in the 2002 Election Day phone-jamming case in New Hampshire but said the case will return to an appeals court for further review.

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Tobin, of Bangor, Maine, was scheduled for a new trial this week on phone harassment charges. A jury had convicted him in 2005, but the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year overturned the conviction and sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe. At issue was whether Tobin's action fit the specific law he was convicted of violating.

On Thursday, McAuliffe ruled that it did not.

"There is little point in extended discussion here because the issue is close and it is purely a question of law which, as a practical matter, will ultimately be decided by the Court of Appeals," he wrote.

"The call still remains a close one."

Tobin was implicated in an operation masterminded by former state GOP executive director Charles McGee to use hundreds of hang-up phone calls to tie up get-out-the-vote and ride-to-the-polls phone lines at Democratic Party offices and a Manchester firefighters union office on Election Day 2002.

The election featured a U.S. Senate race won by Republican John Sununu over Democrat Jeanne Shaheen — an election that will be revisited this year.

A telephone message left for Tobin was not immediately returned. Messages for two of his lawyers also were not immediately returned.

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