AG Motion Partly Objects To Media Requests To Unseal Woodburn Court Records

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Nancy West photo

Former Sen. Jeff Woodburn is pictured in Coos Superior Court on July 18. Behind him is Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward who is prosecuting the misdemeanor charges against Woodburn.

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

Documents filed Tuesday in the domestic violence case against former Democratic state Sen. Jeff Woodburn indicate the alleged victim complained of sexual assault against him that never resulted in criminal charges.

In fact, it is any mention of the sexual assault allegations that the Attorney General’s Office wants to make sure is not heard by the jury, records show.

Woodburn was a state senator when he was charged last August with nine misdemeanor domestic-violence related counts against Emily Jacobs, who was then Coos County Democratic Chair and a candidate for county treasurer. Woodburn and Jacobs both lost their election.

Woodburn has pleaded not guilty to all nine charges, which include four counts of simple assault, two counts of domestic violence, two counts of criminal mischief, and one count of criminal trespass. A jury has been picked.

The state on Tuesday filed a redacted version of the sealed motion “seeking to exclude reference to the allegations of sexual assault made by the victim against the defendant” as requested by Judge Peter Bornstein. This pleading will be public after it is accepted by the court.

But it was detailed in the state’s partial objection Tuesday to motions to unseal the court records filed by InDepthNH.org and the Berlin Sun.

“This is not a sexual assault case. This is not a situation that has been put before a jury,” the motion filed by Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said.

“(Woodburn), in an effort to harass and further traumatize the victim, has injected this matter into this case to try and call the victim a liar. To disclose these details only serves to violate the substantial privacy rights of the victim,” Ward wrote.

The only part of that pleading that has been redacted are the details of the sexual assault allegation and the details of the disclosure to the Attorney General’s Office, Ward wrote.

The redacted portion of the pleading would provide more than enough information to resolve the legal issues before the court, Ward wrote.

The state also filed a redacted motion seeking to exclude reference to sexual items returned by the victim to the defendant and other sealed records as requested by the judge. The only redactions that remain are a portion of a sentence that refers to the specific items that were returned and a photograph of the items in that case, Ward said.

The strong privacy interests of the victim are compelling in both instances, Ward said.

The news outlets previously filed a motion arguing:

“The N.H. Constitution was amended in 1976 (Part 1, article 8) to add this paragraph: ‘Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable, and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.’

“The court has ruled in the Petition of Keene Sentinel, 136 N.H. 121 ‘under the constitutional and decisional law of this State, there is a presumption that court records are public and the burden of proof rests with the parties seeking non-disclosure of court records to demonstrate with specificity that there is some overriding or special circumstances, that is, a sufficiently compelling interest, which outweighs the public’s right of access to those records,'” the news outlets argued.

Judge Bornstein asked the state to file redacted pleadings to replace sealed motions at a Coos Superior Court hearing on July 18.

At that hearing, Bornstein delayed the trial, which was scheduled to start this week, so both sides could file briefs on the Attorney General’s Office attempt to have Woodburn’s lawyer, Donna Brown, disqualified from representing him.

At that hearing, Ward said there is a new criminal investigation looking into a photo that was filed under seal that made its way to social media. The photo is of Jacobs jumping on Woodburn’s car.

“There’s an ongoing criminal investigation with respect to the dissemination of the image we discussed,” Ward said at the hearing.

After both sides brief the disqualification of Brown question, Bornstein said he would schedule a hearing on the matter. No new trial date was set.

Woodburn’s lawyer Brown declined to comment on the new documents, but has opposed any records being sealed or redacted in the case.

Woodburn also declined comment but after the July 18 hearing he said the state was doing all it could to keep the case from moving forward.

 “I just want to tell my side of the story,” Woodburn said.

After the hearing, Ward said the state didn’t raise the disqualification issue lightly.

 “We are duty bound to raise this,” Ward said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to make clear what criminal charges have been filed.

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