Offbeat State Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn faces domestic violence charges, calls to resign

16:26  03 august  2018
16:26  03 august  2018 Source:   msn.com

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Extended Interview: Sen. Jeff Woodburn: Among the accusations, Sen. Jeff Woodburn is accused of hitting a woman in the stomach. © Provided by Hearst Television, Inc. Among the accusations, Sen. Jeff Woodburn is accused of hitting a woman in the stomach. New Hampshire Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn faced bipartisan calls to resign Thursday night after being charged with nine misdemeanor counts related to domestic violence against a woman.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said Woodburn, 53, of Whitefield, will be arraigned on the charges in state Circuit Court in Lancaster on Aug. 20 at 10:30 a.m. The attorney general said the investigation is continuing.

Accompanied by his attorney, Woodburn turned himself in and was arrested at the Concord Police Department about 3:30 p.m. Thursday. He remained there for several hours before leaving on $500 cash bail.

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Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward told WMUR that as a condition of his bail, a protective order will be put into place that prohibits Woodburn from having contact with the victim and her family members.

Woodburn, in a statement provided to WMUR by his attorney's office, said he will fight the charges.

“This afternoon, I learned that a warrant had been issued for my arrest," he said. "I voluntarily responded to the police station, cooperated with law enforcement during the booking process, and was released. I intend to fully address and defend against these charges in court."

Woodburn did not address the calls for his resignation.

"The charges and allegations are merely accusations," MacDonald said in his statement, "and Mr. Woodburn is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."

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As the highest-ranking Democratic official in the New Hampshire Legislature, Woodburn has portrayed himself as a strong advocate of victims’ rights, women’s health and family and medical leave legislation.

The charges, despite being the subject of State House rumors for weeks, nonetheless shocked the New Hampshire political scene when they were released by the attorney general Thursday evening.

Detailed in a news release from the attorney general, the allegations include Woodburn "throwing a cup of water in her face and then throwing the empty cup at her as well, striking her in the face" on Aug. 10, 2017, and striking her in the stomach on Christmas Eve last year.

He allegedly bit the victim on her hand and forearm as recently as June 9 and 10. He allegedly damaged her property and entered or remained in her residence after forcing open a locked door last year.

In all, Woodburn is charged with four counts of simple assault, two counts of domestic violence, two counts of criminal mischief and one count of criminal trespass.

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View the attorney general’s full statement, describing the incidents and charges, here.

Woodburn represents the Senate District 1, which encompasses more than 50 towns and unincorporated communities in the North Country. He is in his third term as a senator and was chosen by his Democratic colleagues to lead the caucus in December 2014.

Woodburn is on the ballot for a fourth term in the upcoming election, with no party primary opposition. He would face Republican David J. Starr in the general election.

According to the secretary of state’s office, even if Woodburn were to drop his re-election bid, his name would remain on the ballot.

Prior to serving in the Senate, Woodburn served a single term in the New Hampshire House.

Woodburn’s long involvement in Democratic politics dates back at least 25 years, when he was a top aide to former U.S. Rep. Dick Swett, both in an official and political capacity.

Swett, reached Thursday night, said, "I'm shocked. It's just shocking."

Woodburn was elected chairman of the state Democratic Party in 1997, serving a single, two-year term.

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He was known to have long-term gubernatorial aspirations, but his immediate political goal was to lead the Democrats to win the Senate majority in this year’s election, which likely would have made him the front-runner for being chosen by his colleagues as Senate president.

Woodburn has been a strong advocate for economic development in his region, but he has also been a strong supporter of women’s choice and funding for Planned Parenthood. He is known for making passionate, often fiery and emotional speeches on the Senate floor.

He was among several leaders on the Democratic side earlier this year advocating for passage of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing rights to crime victims on par with the rights of defendants. Known as Marsy’s Law, the provision passed the Senate overwhelmingly, but then was soundly defeated in the House.

Calls to resign

Calls for Woodburn to resign erupted minutes after the charges were made public, and in one case, even before.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said, “Sen. Woodburn's morally reprehensible, violent behavior has no place in public service, or anywhere else. Domestic violence will not be tolerated in New Hampshire. Sen. Woodburn must resign. Immediately.

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said, “I'm shocked and disturbed to learn of the domestic violence charges against Sen. Jeff Woodburn. Elected officials exist to serve the public interest and should be held to a higher standard. There is no excuse and absolutely no room for domestic abuse and violence in our society.

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“It is clear that Jeff Woodburn can no longer serve the public interest, and out of respect for this office and those he serves, I call for his resignation from Senate District 1, immediately.”

Morse also spoke of the victim.

“As a community, we must ensure that this courageous young woman has the support and protection she needs," he said. "Combating domestic violence continues to be a priority and there is no place for this reprehensible behavior in public office or otherwise.”

Republicans hold a 14-10 majority in the 24-member Senate.

Eight of Woodburn’s nine fellow Senate Democrats called for his resignation.

The following statement was released by Deputy Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy and Sens. Kevin Cavanaugh, Dan Feltes, Martha Fuller Clark, Martha Hennessey, Jay Kahn, Bette Lasky and David Watters:

“Elected officials must be held to the highest standards. We have zero tolerance for any forms of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or domestic violence. The allegations against Senator Woodburn are serious and cannot be tolerated anywhere across our country — especially not in the New Hampshire State Senate. Sen. Woodburn is entitled to full due process, but we jointly call on him to resign effective immediately."

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, the dean of the Senate, did not join their call for Woodburn’s resignation.

D'Allesandro called the charges “reprehensible,” but also said, “He deserves his day in court. And that’s why we have courts. I’m sure there are two sides to every story. These charges are awful, but (resigning) is his decision to make. He’s got to do what he thinks is the right thing to do.”

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D'Allesandro said he was called by Feltes and asked to sign on to the Democratic caucus statement.

“I said I wasn’t going to call on him to resign,” he said in an interview.

State Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley was the first to issue a resignation call, even before the attorney general released the charges.

"The New Hampshire Democratic Party stands firm in our belief that any form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or domestic violence is completely unacceptable behavior for anyone let alone our public officials who should all be held to a higher standard,” Buckley said.

“We take these accusations against Sen. Jeff Woodburn very seriously and stand with his accuser and support her during this unimaginably painful time. We are asking Sen. Woodburn to resign from office immediately."

The four members of the state’s congressional delegation — all Democrats and all women — also joined in the resignation call, along with the two Democratic candidates for governor, former state Sen. Molly Kelly and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand.

“While Sen. Woodburn, like all citizens, is entitled to his day in court, these charges are extremely serious,” said U.S. Rep Carol Shea-Porter. “We cannot look away and cannot excuse any domestic abuse. Domestic violence is a horrible crime and cannot be tolerated anywhere.”

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster called the allegations “deeply disturbing and unacceptable. Domestic violence is abhorrent and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Sen. Woodburn should resign his position immediately."

"Domestic violence should always be condemned in the strongest terms, and there must be accountability for acts of abuse,” said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. “I’m appalled by these charges and call on Jeff Woodburn to resign.”

"We must never tolerate the grave and despicable crime of domestic violence,” said U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan. “Given these extremely disturbing and serious charges, Jeff Woodburn must resign immediately.”

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence called on the media not to name the victim, “to ensure her right to privacy and safety.”

“All victims of domestic violence face barriers when deciding whether to come forward and report their abuse. When the abuser is someone in the public eye, victims face additional public scrutiny, which often keeps them from speaking out,” said coalition executive director Lyn Schollet.

“These charges are serious. New Hampshire communities expect elected officials to uphold the laws they pass. We stand by this victim and all survivors in accessing resources and support and seeking justice,” Schollet said.

Attorney General MacDonald said that anyone with further information about the case should contact investigator Todd Flanagan at (603) 271-1208 or todd.flanagan@doj.nh.gov.

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