The case against a Tennessee man accused of threatening U.S. Rep. John Boccieri continues Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Akron. A Boccieri office manager and FBI agents testified this morning.
In a McDonald’s parking lot on a main drag in Cleveland, Tenn., James L. Schmidlin stood with his cell phone and a list of “blue-dog Democrats” he had downloaded from the Internet.
Unhappy with President Barack Obama’s proposed health care reform bill, Schmidlin had been letting friends and congressmen know his opinion.
So he checked the list and dialed the first name, U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, D-Alliance. A phone rang in Boccieri’s Canton office. Executive assistant Katie Jones answered.
The conversation that following during the 44 second phone call is being debated in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio.
Schmidlin, 40, faces two criminal charges because of the phone call, which Jones reported as being a threat. A jury is expected to begin deliberations this morning on Schmidlin’s fate.
Jones testified Wednesday a “very angry” caller greeted her the morning of March 4. She said the man told her, “John Boccieri doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it. I swear I’m going to burn his (expletive) house down.”
Jones said she asked the caller for his name and told him she wouldn’t tolerate threats. The caller repeated the threat to burn Boccieri’s house and hung up, she said.
Jones said she thought the threat should be reported. She sent an e-mail to Boccieri’s Washington office within six minutes, and contacted the Capital Police.
“I took it very seriously because I heard conviction in his voice and thought he’d do what he said he’d do,” Jones said.
Schmidlin took the stand during the afternoon and offered a different story.
Telephone records show that from Feb. 22 to March 23, Schmidlin made 151 calls to congressmen from both parties. He also made 85 calls to syndicated radio talk shows.
The goal was to let congressmen know he opposed the health care bill, Schmidlin said. He called radio programs to complain about the bill.
“It was just about volumes of calls,” Schmidlin told the jury.
Shortly after 10 a.m. March 4, Schmidlin was on a break from his job with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services when he stopped off at McDonald’s. Schmidlin said he told the woman who answered the phone at Boccieri’s office that he grew up a Democrat, but that he would stop voting for Democrats if they passed the health care bill.
Schmidlin said the woman told him Boccieri planned to vote for the bill after language on abortion was changed. At that point, Schmidlin said he responded with “John Boccieri doesn’t get it. He freaking doesn’t get it.”
Page 2 of 2 - The woman disagreed with him, Schmidlin said. That prompted him to say, “If this bill passes, then we’ll kick them out of office and we’ll burn down this (expletive) house of cards.”
Schmidlin admitted he probably became loud and sounded angry.
DENIES MAKING THREAT
Schmidlin denied threatening Boccieri, or that he was trying to annoy or harass Boccieri and his staff.
When asked by Public Defender Debra M. Hughes to explain “we’ll burn this house of cards,” Schmidlin said it referred to “we the American people” voting against supporters of the health care bill.
FBI agent Michael Sirohman testified phone records indicated the call lasted between 44 and 61 seconds.
Records show Schmidlin called Boccieri’s offices three more times in March. No threats were reported.
None of the other congressional offices receiving calls from Schmidlin reported threats. A West Virginia congressman reported hearing from an angry caller at a time when Schmidlin phoned.
Sirohman said Schmidlin often blocked his telephone number when calling congressional offices.
BILL NOT ON TRIAL
Judge David D. Dowd Jr. told jurors they had to determine if prosecutors showed that Schmidlin made a threatening call.
“This case is not about the health care bill, it’s about the alleged threat. This is not going to be a forum on the health bill,” Dowd said.
Boccieri eventually voted for the health care bill, helping it pass. He didn’t announce his position, however, until a March 19 press conference in Washington.
On Nov. 2, Republican Jim Renacci, a businessman and former Wadsworth mayor, defeated Boccieri.