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Judge sustains 30-day jail sentence for Woodburn, denies ineffective counsel appeal

Josh Rogers
/
NHPR
After the criminal charges were first brought against him, Woodburn stepped down as the Democrats’ leader in the Senate but refused to resign his seat and ran again, unsuccessfully, for reelection in 2018.

A judge on Thursday rejected former state Sen. Jeffrey Woodburn’s request to dismiss a criminal mischief conviction on grounds that he had ineffective legal counsel. The case stems from a series of 2017 incidents with his former partner, for which he was also convicted of separate domestic violence-related charges before those convictions were overturned on appeal.

Coos County Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein also sustained a 30-day jail sentence on the remaining criminal mischief charges. That prompted Mark Sisti, Woodburn’s new attorney, to tell the court he would appeal those decisions to the state Supreme Court, delaying the imposition of the sentence.

Meanwhile, a separate retrial on Woodburn’s domestic violence allegations is still scheduled for 2024.

A Democrat who at one time was one of the North Country’s most notable – and powerful – political figures, Woodburn was found guilty on domestic violence simple assault charges in 2021 for allegedly biting his partner’s hand during a 2017 incident. He was also found guilty of criminal mischief charges for kicking in her door and entering her property during an earlier dispute. He was acquitted on other charges, and sentenced collectively to 60 days in jail.

Earlier this year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned the domestic violence conviction, ruling that the trial court judge improperly instructed the jury to not consider Woodburn’s claims of self-defense. Woodburn did not directly appeal the criminal mischief convictions, which carried a 30-day sentence.

In court Thursday, Sisti sought to toss out the criminal mischief verdict, claiming Woodburn’s prior legal counsel should have sought to split the criminal proceedings into at least two different trials, since the incidents took place months apart. He called the charges for kicking in the door and the separate biting allegations “apples and oranges.” Ruling from the bench, Bornstein denied that request, noting that proving a defendant had ineffective counsel is a high bar that was “not established” in this case.

Sisti further argued that a 30-day sentence was overly severe given Woodburn’s lack of a criminal record prior to 2017. Bornstein again rejected the request, prompting Sisti to tell the court he would be appealing the orders to the Supreme Court. Following the 90-minute hearing, Woodburn was released and will remain free, pending the result of that appeal.

The new trial on his domestic violence charges, meanwhile, has been scheduled for next March.

Woodburn was first elected as a state representative in 1988, and went on to serve in the state senate after a failed bid for the Executive Council in 2000. After the criminal charges were first brought against him, he stepped down as the Democrats’ leader in the Senate but refused to resign his seat and ran again, unsuccessfully, for reelection in 2018.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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