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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.

NH Supreme Court: Drunk Parking Not A Crime

Dianna Ruddman was sitting in her car in a church parking lot in Enfield, N.H. when she was busted for DUI in 2020. The engine was running but the car was not moving. So she took the case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

And she won.

The court reversed her guilty verdict, not because of what she was doing, but where she was.

“These facts are sufficient for us to determine that, as a matter of law, the church parking lot does not meet the definition of ‘way’ within paragraph I. See RSA 259:125, I.,” the majority wrote in their ruling released Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled about it to be quite frank,” said Ryan Russman, a defense attorney who specializes in DUI cases.

Ruddman was seen by a police officer removing a bottle of alcohol from the trunk of her car and then getting behind the driver’s seat with the engine running, according to court records. Ruddman told the office she planned to stay in the parking lot until she sobered up, but she would call for a ride if need be. Instead, she was arrested and the Department of Safety suspended her license for six months.

During a subsequent hearing before the Department of Safety in June 2020, Ruddman allowed that the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe she was intoxicated. However, she argued the officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe that she was in control of a vehicle “upon the ways of this state,” as is stipulated in RSA 265-A:31, II(a). 

“She argued that the church parking lot where she was arrested is not a “way” within the meaning of (the law)” the ruling states.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Barbara Hantz Marconi writes the legislature may want to act to close the DUI loophole that allows drunk parking on private property.

“In light of the majority’s opinion, the legislature may wish to clarify its intent that the expanded definition of ‘way’ in RSA 259:125,” Marconi wrote.

Russman said he hears from clients all the time that they have been arrested for DUI even though they were not driving. He hopes the ruling means police will allow for people to do the sensible thing and pull over if they have had too much to drink, without risking getting arrested.

“The law punishes people when they’ve potentially made the decision when they should not be driving,” Russman said. 

Len Harden, another defense attorney who works with many DUI clients, said people can park on the side of the road in order to sober up, but they need to be in the passenger seat or back seat while they wait.

“If they’re in the driver’s seat, they’re (in trouble)” Harden said.

Under the law, an intoxicated person behind the wheel of a parked car that is on the side of a road or in a parking lot with public access can be charged with DUI, even if their intent is to sober up or wait for a ride.

Pat Sullivan, with the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association, said law officers are in a difficult position when they encounter an intoxicated person in those situations. If the officer leaves them be, the driver might get into an accident or suffer carbon monoxide poisoning from the car’s exhaust. 

Russman says he suspects the legislature will act to close the loophole, but he believes police need to have more options when dealing with possibly intoxicated drivers who are trying to do the right thing. Sullivan agreed, saying officers need to have the ability to use more discretion, he said.

“It’s one of those things, we’re all about public safety. It could be better to take that person into protective custody and release them to a sober individual if possible.

NH Supreme Court Rules In Favor of Northern Pass to Bury Lines in Coos County

In a victory for Northern Pass, the state Supreme Court ruled that the controversial hydropower transmission plan can bury power lines under or alongside Route 3 in Coos County.

The court issued an order Tuesday, without oral argument, upholding an earlier Superior Court ruling against the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The Forest Society argues that burying the lines exceeded the state’s right-of-way rules and would cause harm to the group’s property alongside the road in the town of Clarksville.

“We conclude that use of the Route 3 right-of-way for the installation of an underground high voltage direct current electrical transmission line, with associated facilities, falls squarely within the scope of the public highway easement as a matter of law, and that such use is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DOT [Department of Transportation] to regulate” the order stated, which was signed by the three justices.

This is just one court ruling dealing with the Northern Pass project. If the controversial project continues as planned, the Forest Society said they can expect more lawsuits.

“The Forest Society will be ready when they do,” the group said in a statement. “As a result, Northern Pass can likely count on additional delays if they continue to pursue their current proposal.”

The 192-mile proposed line from Canada to Deerfield would bring roughly 1,000 megawatts of electricity from dams in Quebec to the New England power grid. Proponents of the project says the power would reduce energy costs for residents and businesses, but opponents cite possible environmental issues from putting the lines underground to high towers ruining New Hampshire vistas and impacting tourism. The state’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is expected to decide in the fall if the project will move forward or not.

In its November 2015 lawsuit, the Forest Society argued that Northern Pass must seek approval to bury a portion of the line “within the public right-of-way next to property it owns, and that burial of a transmission line does not represent proper use of the roadways,” according to Northern Pass.

The Forest Society is claiming ownership of the land that Northern Pass wants to use, and they asked the court for a declaratory judgement to find and rule that the land, known as the Washburn Family Forest, is unauthorized.

In May 2016, the NH Superior Court rejected their claim, saying the project’s proposed use is “within the scope of the highway easement,” and that the NH Department of Transportation has “exclusive jurisdiction over whether to grant the project the necessary permits and licenses.” The recent Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed this point.

“The Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Forest Society’s lawsuit against Northern Pass is unfortunate in that it puts off until later a private property rights issue of extraordinary importance to New Hampshire landowners,” the Forest Society said in a statement. “In short, the Court punted. The Supreme Court did not settle the eminent domain issue with regards to Northern Pass, but asks us all to wait until the [NH DOT] acts.”

But the Legislature has already prevented Northern Pass from taking private property for their project by eminent domain. However, 18 of the 31 towns that would be impacted by the transmission lines recently submitted a petition to the SEC saying they should have “home rule” over the project and only a local municipality has the legal right to authorize the use of their roads for such projects.

“In other words, the Town would be liable for the taking and responsible for paying the damages assessed, not Northern Pass,” said Steve Ellis, chairman of the Board of Selectman in Pittsburg, one of the towns petitioning the state, in a letter. “Northern Pass is thus shifting the burden of eminent domain — a power it does not possess — to the Towns, while arguing that the towns have no say in the matter.”

But the SEC recently dismissed their motion.

One of the best chances for towns to have more authority over utility line expansion projects was also just shot down in the Legislature. The House Committee on Municipal and County Government voted unanimously last week to kill House Bill 145. It would have prohibited high voltage transmission lines from being located in any municipality by a two-thirds vote of the entire governing body of a city or by a majority of voters in an election.

“It provides one town veto power over what the two towns on either side of it want,” State Rep. Jim Belanger, R-Hollis, told the Union Leader. “Also, it establishes home rule, and New Hampshire is not a home rule state.”

Northern Pass has called the Forest Society hypocritical for calling them to bury the transmission line, yet then file a lawsuit against them for doing that.

“As we’ve previously noted, the Forest Society has frequently demanded Northern Pass be buried, yet in this case, had filed this lawsuit to prevent its burial,” Northern Pass said in a statement. “The Forest Society has also continued to raise the false notion that the use of eminent domain is possible for Northern Pass, when state law clearly prevents it, and the project does not require its use.”

 

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