LANCASTER — Former state Sen. Jeffrey Woodburn (D-Whitefield) was sentenced Tuesday to 60 days in jail in his domestic violence case. He immediately said he is appealing both his conviction and sentence to the state Supreme Court.
The decision to appeal means the case, which has run on for three years, is likely to continue in the legal system for another year.
Woodburn and his attorney, Donna Brown, said a jail sentence in a misdemeanor domestic violence case for a first offender with no prior criminal record is unprecedented. The two also said they will challenge the court’s decisions to seal various documents and not allow Woodburn to argue self-defense.
“The excessive, unprecedented sentence confirms what I’ve been fighting for the last three years ... I will appeal the conviction mostly to reveal the truth and evidence that was sealed from the public,” Woodburn said.
Coos County Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein gave the defense 30 days to file an appeal before Woodburn has to report to the Coos County House of Correction. If he files an appeal, the sentence is stayed until the higher court rules on the case.
Woodburn, 55, was found guilty of one count of domestic violence, one count of simple assault and two counts of criminal mischief following a jury trial earlier this spring. The state had asked for three 12-month sentences with all but 60 days suspended. The defense requested a suspended sentence.
Bornstein sentenced Woodburn to 12 months with all but 30 days suspended on the domestic violence/simple charges. He also sentenced him to 12 months with all but 30 days suspended on the criminal mischief charge, to be served consecutively to the domestic violence sentence.
He handed down a 12-month suspended sentence on the second criminal mischief charge. Bornstein rejected a recommendation by the state that Woodburn undergo a batter’s evaluation but stipulated he must continue counseling sessions.
The victim, former Coos County Democratic chair Emily Jacob, did not appear at the sentencing, writing that the press has violated her privacy throughout the process. Instead Lynda Ruel, head of the N.H. New Hampshire Attorney General's Victim/Witness Program, read her impact statement described the suffering she has endured as a victim of domestic violence.
Jacobs said Woodburn physically and emotionally abused her. Jacobs said she did not leave Woodburn because she feared he would retaliate and she said he did, alleging he provided information about her place of employment to the media, disseminated an image of her that was under a court protective order, and used personal information to intimidate her.
Jacobs described the pain she felt when Woodburn bit her hand as “some of the most intense pain I have ever endured” in the incident that resulted in the domestic violence and simple assault charges.
She said the bite left a permanent scar.
“A scar that I see every day and is a haunting reminder of the pain I suffered and the three-plus years Mr. Woodburn stole from my life,” she said.
Jacobs said her home was the scene for the two criminal mischief incidents and she described feeling scared and traumatized in the place where she should feel most safe and secure. In one incident, Woodburn kicked the dryer door off and in the other, he kicked in her door on Christmas Eve 2017.
Addressing the court, Woodburn said there were isolated incidents in their relationship where he let his anger get the better of him. He said he felt trapped in the relationship and went to couples counseling and then individual sessions with a psychologist that continue to this day.
He said he feared ending the relationship would harm his reputation and his political ambitions and pointed out that is what happened. He lost his job and his political career and is now working for a chef he worked for as a 14-year old.
Woodburn said his goal in fighting the charges is to get the entire truth out and said he felt the jury believed him. He pointed out the jury convicted him on the things he testified he did and found him not guilty on five other charges — a second count of domestic violence, three counts of simple assault, and one count of criminal trespass
“I stood for principal, trusting the ideals of our judicial system, and I paid a price for that. And while the outcome is not what I hoped for, I’ve learned from this experience,” he said.
Submitting letters on Woodburn’s behalf were his two ex-wives and his current girlfriend. All three said there had been no incidents of domestic violence in their relationships with Woodburn. His two ex-wives revealed they are on friendly terms with Woodburn.
In sentencing Woodburn, Bornstein said he considered punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation. He said he noted testimony that Woodburn has already paid a price for his actions in lost job opportunities, standing in the community, and financial costs. He also said he took into account Woodburn’s meritorious public service.
Woodburn served three terms as state senator, one term as state representative, was a congressional aide for former U.S. Congressman Dick Swett, and a former chair of the N.H. Democratic Party. There was testimony he was planning a future run for governor.
But the judge said imposing no time for biting the victim and kicking two doors, especially the door to her home, sends a bad message. He noted Woodburn was found guilty of the charges by the jury.
Bornstein said he felt the state had balanced the competing considerations and mitigating factors in recommending Woodburn serve a total of 60 days on the three charges.
The judge sentenced Woodburn to 12 months with all but 30 days suspended on the domestic violence/simple charges. He also sentenced him to 12 months with all but 30 days suspended on the criminal mischief charge, to be served consecutively to the domestic violence sentence. He handed down a 12-month suspended sentence on the second criminal mischief charge.
Bornstein rejected a recommendation by the state that Woodburn undergo a batter’s evaluation but stipulated he must continue counseling sessions.
In urging jail time for Woodburn, Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said Woodburn post-conviction statements to the media showed no remorse for his actions.
He said Woodburn argued the jury believed him because it found him not guilty of five other charges.
A sentence, Ward said, would send a clear message of the wrongness of his actions.
Ward also argued Woodburn did not testify truthfully in court during the trial about the incidents, claiming he didn’t remember biting Jacobs and that he “accidentally” kicked in the door to her house. The senior assistant attorney pointed out that Woodburn admitted that he violated a protective order of the court and personally disseminated a photograph of Jacobs.
Brown said Woodburn was attempting to leave the relationship with Jacobs when the charges were filed and argued this was not a case where an abuser was attempting to prevent the abused from leaving the relationship.
At the start of the hearing, Brown said she wanted to address for the record the fact that Judge Bornstein’s wife, Linda Upham Bornstein, had posted comments about victims’ rights in response to an InDepthNH article that was posted on The Berlin Sun Facebook page.
The article spoke about the press not being allowed in the courtroom for the trial but forced to watch a video feed in an adjacent room and initial problems with the audio feed. B
Bornstein said he is not personally familiar with Facebook but said his wife was aware of the decision to close the courtroom.
He said if the trial had not taken place during the pandemic, the press would have been in the courtroom.
Ward said the state had no issue with Linda Bornstein’s posting and Brown said she merely wanted to put it on the record.