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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.

Sen. Woodburn’s Victim to NH Dems: “I Didn’t Bring This”

Having been forced out of her position as Coos County Democratic Party chairwoman, the former domestic partner of State Sen. Jeff Woodburn–and the alleged victim of his violence–wants her fellow Democrats to know: She’s not the problem.

“My client did not report [Woodburn’s attacks],” her attorney Patricia LaFrance told “She was contacted by the authorities who asked her if something was wrong, and who told her they had reason to believe something was happening to her. She didn’t bring this. They [the authorities] brought it to her.”

LaFrance pointed out that this information was made public during the recent court hearing on Sen. Woodburn’s criminal domestic violence case, and yet her client is still being punished by the community. “She got an email, sort of like a friendly warning, that her own party was planning–and these were the exact words–“a political lynching” for her,” LaFrance told NHJournal.

“I spent 18 years in a prosecutor’s office, and I know from experience it’s hard enough getting victims of domestic and sexual violence to come forward. To see a woman treated like this…in 2018? It’s unbelievable.”

LaFrance’s client was allegedly forced from her county leadership position over Facebook postings on the Coos County Democratic Party page highlighting the issue of domestic violence and violence against women–a problematic issue when the party’s nominee for state senate is facing criminal charges for allegedly punching and repeatedly biting his former domestic partner.

At an August meeting of the Coos County Democratic Committee after Woodburn’s arrest, his fellow Democrats rejected a motion to call for his resignation. And the New Hampshire Democratic Party says it stands behind their decision to oust his victim from her county chairmanship.

“Let me be clear: The party maintains its decision to withdraw support for the District One nominee (Woodburn),” NH Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. However, Buckley denied that he or the state Democratic Party had any knowledge of the harassment or threats she has received from local Woodburn supporters.  “Whoever did this was not acting on behalf of, or authorized by, the New Hampshire Democratic Party. We do not support these actions, and as soon as we learn of more details regarding this, we will address them immediately,” Buckley said in his statement.

The NH GOP wasted no time responding.  “The intimidation tactics by Ray Buckley and the Democrat political leadership against this individual are reprehensible,” GOP state party chair Wayne MacDonald said in a statement. The NHGOP also released a series of Facebook screen grabs showing prominent state Democrats like Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) and Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth) celebrating Woodburn’s victory over his female opponent in the September 11th Democratic primary.


Woodburn’s case–which involves multiple accounts of domestic assault and violence— comes at an unfortunate time for New Hampshire Democrats, who have been working hard to increase their support among women, have nominated a woman gubernatorial nominee (former state senator Molly Kelly), and have repeatedly attempted to link incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu and the NHGOP to allegations of misogyny and anti-woman attitudes from President Trump and the national GOP.  The tacit support for Woodburn’s candidacy feeds charges of hypocrisy from their GOP counterparts.

Molly Kelly, a political ally of Woodburn’s in the past, hasn’t helped her party’s cause. Though she offered a pro forma call for Woodburn to resign when he was first arrested, she refused to join other Democrats in endorsing or campaigning for Woodburn’s primary opponent.


In Politically Charged Times, Instances of Bipartisanship Appear at N.H. State House

It’s not often that you get a Republican governor, GOP-led Legislature, and Democratic minority to agree on anything. Especially after the contentious 2016 presidential and U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire, which saw numerous attack ads and damaging remarks, it wasn’t clear how the new dynamics at the State House would impact how policy gets done. Despite the expected political battles between the two parties, there have been some rare moments of bipartisanship in Concord.

In the past couple of weeks, there were a few bills making their way through the lawmaking process that saw bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 9 has seen some passionate testimony from advocates and lawmakers who want to strengthen New Hampshire’s rape shield law. It would protect a victim’s “sexual past, interests and predispositions” from being introduced as evidence at all stages of the judicial process, including appeals.

The bill was prompted by the rape and murder of University of New Hampshire student Lizzi Marriott in 2012, whose family had to appeal to the state Supreme Court to prevent details of her sexual past from being admitted during an appeal of the convicted murderer Seth Mazzaglia. The court originally ruled that the information could be made public because the rape shield law didn’t apply at the appeals level. Victim advocacy groups protested the decision and former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, and all four members of the Granite State’s congressional delegation, filed a motion asking the court to reconsider. The court eventually reversed its order.

It passed Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee on an 11-4 vote. Four Republicans voted the bill was “inexpedient to legislate” because it was too expansive and could remove discretion from courts. Despite those four representatives, this bill has seen supporters from both parties as it makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, introduced the bill in the Senate, where it unanimously passed in the chamber. The night before the panel’s hearing on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu urged the committee to pass the bill in a three-page letter to committee members.

“I encourage legislators to support Senate Bill 9, as passed by the Senate, to help ensure another family does not go through the painful and lengthy legal battle the Marriott family has had to undertake to protect their daughter’s privacy,” he wrote.

The committee was late to start the meeting because House Speaker Shawn Jasper and the House GOP leadership team caucused with the Republican members before the vote. He encouraged them to pass the bill as is without any new amendments.

With House GOP leadership pushing its passage, Sununu weighing in on it, and Democrats supporting the bill, SB 9 is likely to make it into law.

The other bill showing signs of bipartisanship is House Bill 640, which would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

The House has passed eight of these bills in the last 10 years, but they were always shot down in the Senate. With Massachusetts and Maine voting in November to legalize recreational marijuana, advocates say 2017 is the year for the state to catch up and it looks like the Senate will get it done.

HB 640, which would allow possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, was overwhelming approved last month by a 318-36 vote in the House. Last week, the bill moved over to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the members heard testimony on the bill.

Passage of the measure in the five-person committee is considered likely. The two Democrats, Sens. Bette Lasky of Nashua and Martha Hennessey of Hanover support the measure. Republican Sen. Harold French of Franklin also approves of it, but his GOP colleagues, Sens. Sharon Carson of Londonderry and Bill Gannon of Sandown, oppose the bill.

When it gets to the full Senate for a vote, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said he predicts it will pass.

“I think when all’s said and done we will pass decriminalization and I think both sides, the advocates as well as law enforcement, will be able to live it,” he told NH1 News.

The committee is currently debating whether the amount should change from one ounce to half an ounce. Regardless of the amount, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn said Democrats are willing to compromise.

“I’m certainly going to work to create a majority that can get something passed and get something turned into law,” he said. “I think the larger amount is fine with me but I’m willing to compromise to move the ball forward.”

It’s also expected that Sununu would sign the bill once it reaches his desk. He supported marijuana decriminalization during his gubernatorial campaign. He recently said he prefers the half an ounce amendment, but would let the legislature hammer out the details.

On some education issues, there has also been bipartisan work, especially when it comes to full-day kindergarten. Republicans also supported an effort to kill a school choice bill for the rest of the year. The move was applauded by Democrats, but it’s likely to reappear again in 2018.

This isn’t to say that New Hampshire Republicans and Democrats are working together on everything. Democrats fervently opposed a right-to-work bill that came up earlier this year, and they were also players in the House’s failure to pass a budget. Also, just look at the New Hampshire Democratic Party and New Hampshire Republican Party‘s Twitter accounts. They are often filled with mudslinging tweets at the opposing party. Yet, on several big issues at the State House, it appears both parties can be bipartisan.

Follow Kyle on Twitter.

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