inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

Former Sen. Woodburn’s Domestic Violence Convictions Overturned

Disgraced Democratic legislative leader Jeff Woodburn’s domestic violence convictions have been wiped out after the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled he was denied a fair defense at trial.

“Because the record contains ‘some evidence’ supporting a rational finding that the defendant acted in self-defense, the trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury on that theory of defense was unreasonable,” Associate Justice James Bassett wrote.

The state’s high court ruled Thursday that Woodburn should have been able to argue self-defense to the jury. Woodburn (D-Whitefield) was the Democratic state Senate Minority Leader when he was charged in 2018 with assaulting his then-girlfriend.

Woodburn was blocked from arguing that he acted in self-defense against the woman, according to Bassett.

“On several occasions, the court excluded evidence of the complainant’s alleged prior aggressive conduct towards the defendant, including evidence that she had tried to block or restrain him from leaving her during previous conflicts. The defendant argued that this evidence was relevant to his theory of self-defense,” Bassett wrote.

While the court sent the domestic violence case back to Coos Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein, it also upheld Woodburn’s convictions on criminal mischief.

Michael Garrity, communications director for New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella, said there is no decision yet on whether or not to bring a new trial against Woodburn. “We are reviewing the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s opinion in the case of State v. Jeffrey Woodburn so that we can determine our next steps,” Garrity said.

Woodburn was New Hampshire’s top-ranking Democratic senator at the time of his arrest. After winning his party’s primary, Woodburn went on to lose the 2018 general election to 75-year-old first-time candidate David Starr.

“It’s disappointing that these convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court on a legal technicality,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “However, other convictions in this case still stand, and Mr. Woodburn will be going to jail for his crimes. He was convicted by a jury of his peers and by a jury that believed the survivor. This decision should not in any way discourage victims of domestic violence from coming forward and reporting abuse.”

According to court records, the convictions stem from Woodburn’s violent actions related to three separate incidents. In the first, Woodburn and the woman arrived in separate vehicles at a Dec. 15, 2017, Christmas party, and the woman agreed to drive him home so that Woodburn could drink at the party. During an argument on the drive home, Woodburn had the woman pull over, and during a struggle over his phone, he bit her hand, according to court records.

On Christmas Eve that same year, Woodburn kicked the door to the woman’s house when she refused to let him inside. in August 2017, he reportedly kicked her clothes dryer, breaking the appliance, police records showed.

The woman went on record telling Bornstein that she tried to grab his phone without permission at one point during her many struggles with Woodburn. Bornstein stated in court that phone grabbing did not rise to the level of behavior that allows for Woodburn’s self-defense claims. 

In the lead-up to the trial, Woodburn’s attorney Donna Brown, sent unredacted copies of sealed court records to press members, effectively leaking the victim’s name to the media.

“His lawyer pro-actively sent copies of unsealed documents to the media,” the alleged victim’s attorney—and former Hillsborough County prosecutor— Patricia LaFrance told NHJournal at the time. “I’ve never seen that in my 16 years as a prosecutor.”

Woodburn was sentenced to two years in jail after his trial, with all but 60 days suspended. He remains free on bail. 

Victim Advocacy Group: ‘No Place’ in NH House for Dem Accused of Stalking

As New Hampshire Democrats remain silent about one of their own sitting in jail on stalking charges, the state’s leading victim advocacy group is speaking out.

State Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) is currently being held without bail in Manchester’s Valley Street Jail on grounds she presents an ongoing danger to the public as well as the victim of her stalking and harassment. Laughton had already been found guilty of stalking the same Hudson woman named in the current complaint. The charges go back to at least 2019 before Laughton was elected as New Hampshire’s first transgender state representative.

Incoming House Democratic Caucus leader Rep. Matt Wilhelm and state party chair Ray Buckley have both refused to condemn Laughton’s behavior or respond to multiple requests for comment about her arrest.

But the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) is speaking out.

“We are extremely concerned by the numerous charges filed against Rep. Laughton. It is critical that individuals that hold positions of power be held accountable when they cause harm. There is no place in the New Hampshire legislature for those who perpetrate abuse,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, NHCADSV director of public affairs. “Stalking is rooted in a pattern of behavior intended to cause fear in the victim and can have long-term impacts on a survivor. Stalking is a very serious crime that has the potential to escalate to physical and even lethal violence,” Grady Sexton said.

One reason for the Democratic Party’s silence, critics said, was the GOP’s extremely narrow 198-201 majority in the House. As a result, every vote will count at Wednesday’s Organization Day session when representatives are sworn in and leadership positions are settled. Laughton’s vote could decide which party has a majority.

Democrats are also mounting a major campaign to oust current Secretary of State Dave Scanlan in favor of former State Sen. Melanie Levesque (D-Brookline).

Could Laughton leave jail to cast a vote on the floor of the State House? Under New Hampshire’s Constitution, state representatives cannot be stopped from attending House sessions and police are prohibited from arresting representatives en route to the legislature.

“Democrats could solve this problem by announcing in advance they will refuse to seat Laughton,” said Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “But they haven’t, which means they care more about politics than protecting women.”

Laughton is accused of repeatedly violating orders to leave a Hudson woman alone as well as charges of stalking, criminal defamation, and making false 911 calls. Laughton is already facing jail time after pleading no contest last summer to charges of making false 911 calls about the same victim. Prosecutors have told the court they plan to ask for the imposition of the suspended nine-month sentence brought in that case.

She is scheduled for a hearing in Nashua District Court on Dec. 22, during which she could enter into a plea agreement to resolve her case. Even if she misses Organization Day, Laughton would be free to serve in the House once she is released as she is not currently charged with any felonies.

Laughton won a seat for state representative in 2012 but was forced to resign soon after her 2008 credit card fraud arrest became public. Despite pressure from the Democratic Party, Laughton tried to run again to fill the seat in a special election after her resignation. That bid was cut short when it was deemed she was legally ineligible for office at the time since she was still technically serving her suspended sentence for the felony credit card fraud case.

Long Recovery for Woman Shot by Ex After Judge Denies Restraining Order

Lindsay Smith hopes to one day be a voice for gun safety and women, but right now she is relearning how to walk after a gunshot put her in a coma. 

Just weeks after being denied a restraining order by 10th Circuit Court Judge Polly Hall, Smith, 34, was shot in the head by her ex, 55-year-old Richard Lorman of Wilton, N.H. Hall’s failure to protect Lindsay still angers her mother, Cindy Smith.

“If that judge would have awarded a restraining order, (Lorman) wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun, which he did days before the shooting,” Cindy Smith said.

Lorman killed himself shortly after shooting Lindsay Smith.

Lindsay Smith had been recovering slowly from her head wound but took a turn for the worse this fall. She ended up back in the hospital and suffered a stroke from blood loss.

“She’d had a setback. She’s had infection after infestation and she has to relearn how to walk,” Cindy Smith said. “We’re blessed that intellectually she has decent capabilities.”

In August, 2021, Lindsay Smith had sought a protective order in August in the 10th Circuit Court – Hampton Family Division, and obtained a temporary one in September, according to the New Hampshire Judiciary Internal Review Committee’s initial report. However, Hall denied the permanent order Smith sought on Oct. 20 for lack of a “credible, present threat.”

Lindsay Smith told Hall about months of threats from Lorman, while he stalked and harassed her. He also harassed her family members and her coworkers.

“Everything you hold dear, I will f–k it up. You can’t trust anything to be okay anymore. I am going to turn your world upside down. You’ll see. You’ll pay. You chose this,” Lorman said, according to the committee report.

After the restraining order was denied, Lorman, bought a gun and on Nov. 15, 2021, went to Lindsay Smith’s place of employment in Massachusetts. He waited for her to leave the building and shot her in the head.

The Internal Review Committee ultimately cleared Hall of failing Lindsay Smith, finding that Hall was limited in what she could do for Lindsay Smith, in part, based on New Hampshire law and its outdated definitions of abuse. 

Cindy Smith feels the committee report was a coverup to continue protecting judges from consequences.

“I wasn’t surprised. It’s unfathomable to me that judges don’t ever have to be held accountable,” Lindsay Smith said.

The review was led by Circuit Court Judge Susan Carbon, former director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice. Hall told the committee she declined to issue the restraining order because of the absence of any act of physical violence by the defendant since 2016, her understanding that Lorman’s threats were mainly related to “blackmail” and reputational or emotional harm, and because Smith didn’t express fear of a specific physical threat.

“In the absence of a recent act of violence or what she understood as an explicit threat of violence, she felt constrained by case law to find as she did,” according to the committee’s report.

Destinie Berard has been dealing with Hall for years in her own domestic violence case. She said Hall’s orders never protect victims, and New Hampshire never holds judges accountable.

“What the judge did is completely out of control,” Berard said. “When a judge does something, they almost always point you in circles.

New Hampshire judges are subject to a performance review once every three years by the Judicial Conduct Committee, whose 11 members are appointed by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, and the New Hampshire Bar Association.

Judges typically have advance notice of an upcoming review. Absent a sustained criminal charge, the results of an individual judge’s review are typically not made public.

The committee’s annual report for 2021, the most recent available, states 72 new complaints filed against judges in 2021, the vast majority of which were investigated and dismissed by the committee.

Cindy Smith said New Hampshire needs to change the way it oversees judges.

“I would like Judge Polly Hall to be held accountable for negligence,” Cindy Smith said.

 Now, Lindsay Smith is home again from the hospital and recovering. Berard started a Go Fund Me campaign to help the Smith family with her medical expenses. Berard hopes Lindsay Smith recovers, and that judges can no longer hide behind immunity when they make near-fatal errors.

“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” Berard said. “Lindsay’s life is completely shattered.”

NH Dem Rep Defends Alleged Stalker: ‘She’s Basically a Good Person’

With control of the New Hampshire House just two seats from their grasp and the recounts going their way, state Democrats are staying silent on the behavior of Nashua Rep. Stacie Laughton, a repeat offender who was arrested over the weekend in a domestic violence-related stalking case. 

Laughton, New Hampshire’s first transgender elected official, spent the weekend at Valley Street Jail after she was arrested for allegedly violating a domestic violence order by stalking another person. Hudson police did not provide details about the misdemeanor charges when contacted this week, out of a desire to protect the identity of the alleged victim.

Democrats, who claim to be advocates for victims of domestic violence, have refused to respond to repeated requests for comment about Laughton’s case or condemn her actions. Some Republicans have compared it to state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, who was charged (and eventually convicted) of assaulting his girlfriend in 2018 yet faced little opposition from Democratic leadership in his primary and general elections. Woodburn won the primary but lost the general to obscure GOP newcomer David Starr.

Woodburn was eventually convicted and sentenced to 60 days in jail. Woodburn is appealing his conviction.

Laughton is charged with stalking a woman in violation of a civil restraining order, according to Hudson police. Laughton, and her spouse, were unavailable for comment about the arrest.

At least one House Democrat came to Laughton’s defense on Twitter. Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham) likened the stalking charges to a victimless crime.

“She’s gotten into a lot of trouble over the years & she keeps getting into trouble, but she’s basically a good person,” Horrigan tweeted. “She’s not violent or abusive, or harmful to anyone other than herself.”

Former GOP state Rep. Kim Rice was taken aback by Horrigan’s stance.

“I don’t think the person she was stalking would feel the same way,” Rice responded. “I am thinking that person would definitely think they were harmed. I’m shocked sitting on the [House] Judiciary Committee you would even say this.”

And Laughton’s criminal history is far from victimless. She was convicted in 2008 of credit card fraud for stealing from a person in Laconia. In 2015, Laughton was charged with calling in a bomb threat at the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center hospital in Nashua. These charges were later dropped as Laughton claimed she was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time.

Last year, as a sitting state representative, Laughton was charged with several counts of sending false texts to the city’s 911 system. Laughton claimed she did not send the texts in question, and the state and city party did seemingly nothing about her continuing legal adventures.

The protective order Laughton violated was issued in July, months before both the September Democratic primaries and last week’s midterm elections. That meant state and local Democrats were aware of Laughton’s actions and could have taken action.

Horrigan did not respond to NHJournal’s request for comment.

New Hampshire’s Democratic State Party has also declined multiple requests for comment, as have local Nashua Democratic Party leaders.

New Hampshire has few rules when it comes to legislatures in legal trouble. Paul Smith, clerk of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, said the state has no mechanism to remove a lawmaker charged with a crime.

“There are no rules,” Smith said. “There is no automatic process for expulsion.”

Woodburn, Convicted of Assaulting Girlfriend, to Represent Himself In Appeal

Former Democratic leader Jeffrey Woodburn, convicted of physically abusing his ex-fiancée, will represent himself next week as he seeks to reverse his case at a hearing before the state Supreme Court. 

The hearing is set for Tuesday morning. Woodburn is expected to argue he was denied a fair trial because he could not accuse the victim of abuse for trying to take his phone.

Woodburn (D-Whitefield) was the Democrat’s Senate Minority Leader when he was charged in 2018 with nine counts of assaulting his former fiancée. Though he initially resigned as leader, Woodburn clung to his Senate seat for months and members of the Coos County Democratic Committee initially refused to ask him to step down.

The appeal stems from Coos Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein’s ruling that Woodburn could not argue self-defense during the trial. Woodburn was originally charged with nine counts stemming from more than a year of abuse he reportedly directed at the victim.

The convictions are based on Woodburn’s violent actions related to three separate incidents, according to court records. The victim went on the record telling Bornstein that at one point during her many struggles with Woodburn she tried to grab his phone without permission. Bornstein stated in court the attempted grab did not rise to the level of behavior that allows for Woodburn’s self-defense claims.

In the lead-up to the trial, Woodburn leaked the name of the victim to the media by having his attorney, Donna Brown, send unredacted copies of sealed court records to members of the press.

“His lawyer proactively sent copies of unsealed documents to the media,” the alleged victim’s attorney—and former Hillsborough County prosecutor— Patricia LaFrance told NHJournal at the time. “I’ve never seen that in my 16 years as a prosecutor”

Woodburn was sentenced to two years in jail with all but 60 days suspended. He has been out on bail pending his appeal.

New Hampshire Democrats now have the specter of Woodburn’s domestic violence haunting them again a few weeks before the midterm elections. Representatives for the state Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.

Woodburn’s case came at a particularly problematic time for New Hampshire Democrats, during the hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen both opposed the Trump nominee and used unfounded — and in some cases, ludicrous — allegations of sexual assault from Kavanaugh’s high school and college days as a reason to reject him. They were unwilling, however, to publicly criticize Woodburn until months after he was charged with a crime.

Woodburn won the Democratic nomination in 2018 but lost the general election.

The most egregious blow to the victim, critics say, came when a Woodburn paramour who smeared the victim as a “liar” and “sociopath” was given a leadership award by the Manchester Democrats organization.

Sununu Ally Bettencourt Arrested for Domestic Violence

Deputy Insurance Commissioner D.J. Bettencourt is on leave from his state job after he was arrested Friday on a charge of domestic violence/simple assault. 

Bettencourt, 38, allegedly grabbed his wife during an incident in the early morning hours at the couple’s Salem home, according to court documents. He was charged with a Class A misdemeanor in the case, which carries a maximum one-year jail sentence. However, jail time is unlikely given Bettencourt’s lack of a prior criminal record.

Bettencourt is a former House majority leader and former policy director for Gov. Chris Sununu, serving Sununu from 2017 to 2021, when he landed the job at the state Insurance Department, which pays $108,000 per year.

Sununu said in a statement to NHJournal that people should respect the family’s privacy at this time.

“It’s my understanding D.J. has been placed on administrative leave while we await further details. Shannon (Bettencourt) has publicly asked for privacy for her family at this time and we should respect her wishes.”

Democrats were quick to pounce on the story, linking Bettencourt to Sununu. Monica Venzke with the New Hampshire Democratic Party called the allegations troubling. 

“This despicable conduct by D.J. Bettencourt is appalling and disturbing, and Sununu has once again surrounded himself with allies who are violent against women,” Venzke said. According to a press release from the New Hampshire Democratic Party, the “once again” comment is a reference to Eric Spofford, founder and former CEO of Granite Recovery Centers, who is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

Shannon Bettencourt told The Eagle-Tribune she still loves her husband:

“This is a deeply personal matter and especially for the benefit of our three young children, please respect our privacy at this time,” Shannon Bettencourt wrote in an email to the paper. “We do hope it’s clear when this process plays out, that it’s not as it may seem, and I support and love my husband.”

Bettencourt’s attorney Tony Sculimbrene told NHJournal that his client maintains his innocence. 

“Mr. Bettencourt entered a plea of not guilty and maintains his innocence. He has been fully cooperative with the process and looks forward to resolving this matter in court. Out of respect for his family and to preserve the integrity of the justice system, Mr. Bettencourt will not be litigating this matter in the media or the court of public opinion.”

According to Salem Police Officer Mark Conway’s affidavit, police were called to the home at 1:45 a.m. Friday when Bettencourt became angry after reading a text on his wife’s phone. He went to the room where she was sleeping yelling about the message. He then assaulted his wife, according to the affidavit.

“Bettencourt grabbed her by both forearms and pulled her out of the bed yelling ‘what the (expletive) is this,’” Conway wrote.

Bettencourt kept yelling and told his wife he was going to break the phone, according to Conway. He then threw the phone into another room.

Shannon Bettencourt told police the couple is in counseling, and the message on the phone was a journal-entry she wrote to herself. DJ Bettencourt denied grabbing his wife and told police she was the one who threw the phone.

“She stated he absolutely grabbed her by both forearms and pulled her out of the bed while yelling at her about the message on the phone,” Conway wrote. “She stated he never put his hands on her before and that is the reason she called police that night.”

Just over a decade ago, Bettencourt was a rising GOP star and right-hand to conservative former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, both known for a no-holds-barred political style. His stint in politics began in 2004 when was first elected to the House at age 20 and became the youngest majority leader under O’Brien.

Bettencourt made headlines for tangling with Bishop John McCormack. McCormack had criticized the GOP budget plan that slashed social service spending. During a 2011 dust-up, Bettencourt responded by calling McCormack a “pedophile pimp.” McCormack was a key figure in covering up the Boston sexual abuse scandal.

“Would the bishop like to discuss his history of protecting the ‘vulnerable?’” Mr. Bettencourt, a practicing Roman Catholic, wrote. “This man is a pedophile pimp who should have been led away from the State House in handcuffs with a raincoat over his head in disgrace. He has absolutely no moral credibility to lecture anyone.”

Bettencourt would later apologize to McCormack. His political career came crashing to a halt in 2012 when he was caught lying about his work in a UNH law school internship program.

According to a Union Leader report: “Bettencourt agreed to resign after he admitted fabricating reports for a law school internship, according to the House Republican who was mentoring him (state Rep Brandon Guida). Guida said Bettencourt only showed up at his office for one day, ‘where he did approximately one hour of legal work.’ He (Guida) later discovered that Bettencourt had submitted ‘extremely detailed’ reports about that internship, including court hearings he supposedly attended, cases he worked on, and interviews with clients.”

Bettencourt had posted photos of himself graduating from the University of New Hampshire law school onto his Facebook page, despite not actually graduating. At the time, Bettencourt told the Union Leader that there was a dispute about the documents Guida said he had falsified, and he hoped to resolve the matter.

His second act as Sununu’s policy director had Bettencourt taking a lead role in the administration. Sununu praised him when he was nominated to become the deputy Insurance Commissioner.

“DJ has been an integral part of my administration since day one, and I am excited for his next challenge,” Sununu said in 2020. “From advocating for expanded school choice to promoting policies that have strengthened the New Hampshire Advantage all while overseeing the State’s Economic Reopening Taskforce, DJ has helped my administration in countless ways. I cannot thank him enough for his years of service — and look forward to many more at the Department of Insurance.”


NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Eric Spofford had been charged with sexual misconduct. NHJournal regrets the error.