CONCORD — Senate Democratic leader Jeff Woodburn, 53, was arrested Thursday and charged with nine misdemeanor counts of sometimes violent contact with his “intimate partner,” Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald announced.
The chairman of the state Democratic Party called on the party’s highest ranking member at the State House to resign immediately in the wake of criminal charges related to “sexual assault and sexual harassment,” according to Chairman Ray Buckley.
Woodburn, a resident of Whitefield, is serving his third term in the State Senate representing the most northern of the 24 districts. He’s actively seeking re-election. He has not returned calls and has shut down all of his social media platforms.
Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald said the charges of simple assault, domestic violence, criminal mischief and criminal trespass cover contact from last August through this past June. The most recent domestic violence charge states that Woodburn on two occasions bit a female, adult victim on the hand, once on Dec. 15, 2017 and then again on her right forearm resulting in bruising this past June 9-10.
According to MacDonald’s statement, Woodburn is also accused of striking the victim in the face on one occasion, in the stomach with his hand and kicking in the locked door to the victim’s home.
The last two incidents occurred last Christmas Eve, MacDonald said.
MacDonald did not identify the victim other than to call her Woodburn’s “intimate partner.”
In a statement released a few hours later, Woodburn made no mention of quitting and vowed to fight these charges.
“This afternoon, I learned that a warrant had been issued for my arrest. I voluntarily responded to the police station, cooperated with law enforcement during the booking process and was released,” Woodburn said.
“I intend to fully address and defend against these charges in court.”
Buckley first revealed the charges with a statement calling on Woodburn to quit now even before MacDonald announced the arrest.
“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 in a statement.
“We take these accusations against Senator Jeff Woodburn very seriously and stand with his accuser and support her during this unimaginably painful time. We are asking Senator Woodburn to resign from office immediately.”
Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, echoed Buckley with a brief, strongly-worded statement. ““This morally reprehensible, violent behavior has no place in public service, or anywhere else,” said Sununu.
“Domestic violence will not be tolerated in New Hampshire. Senator Woodburn must resign. Immediately.”
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, also condemned Woodburn and was among a parade of officials who also called on Woodburn to quit.
“I’m shocked and disturbed to learn of the domestic violence charges against Senator 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,” Morse said.
“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 Dist. 1, immediately.”
Both major Democratic candidates for governor — Molly Kelly of Harrisville and Steve Marchand of Portsmouth — echoed Buckley and Morse’s call for Woodburn to quit.
“I am deeply troubled by Senator Woodburn’s actions. Domestic violence is unacceptable, period. He must resign from the Senate immediately.” said Kelly who served in the State Senate with Woodburn.
“The Kelly campaign will donate campaign contributions from Woodburn to a non-profit organization that supports victims of domestic violence.”
Marchand said the state must have a zero tolerance policy of such behavior.
“Jeff Woodburn’s alleged behavior and abuse is unacceptable and beyond disturbing. I stand with the woman involved and all victims of domestic violence,” Marchand said. “I call on Jeff Woodburn to resign as minority leader and as a member of the State Senate immediately. Domestic violence has no place in our Legislature, our party, or in our society.”
And eight of Woodburn’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate issued their own statement concluding Woodburn needed to go.
“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,” the Senate Democratic Caucus statement said.
“Senator Woodburn is entitled to full due process, but we jointly call on him to resign effective immediately.”
The only Democrat who didn’t sign onto this statement was Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, the longest-serving senator of his party in the Senate.
Woodburn did not return telephone calls or text messages seeking comment prior to issuing his statement Thursday.
This political bombshell comes less than six weeks before the Sept. 11 primary with Woodburn leading the effort to take back control of the State Senate. The Republicans hold a 14-10 majority.
A former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Woodburn has been widely seen as a rising star in state party politics.
Woodburn is scheduled to be arraigned on these changes in the 1st Circuit Court-Lancaster District Division on Aug. 20 at 10:30 a.m.
The investigation remains ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact investigator Todd Flanagan at (603) 271-1208 or email@example.com.
The charges and allegations are merely accusations, and Woodburn is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, MacDonald said in a statement.
The charges include four counts of simple assault, two counts of domestic violence, two counts of criminal mischief and the one count of criminal trespass.
The criminal trespass charge also allegedly occurred last Christmas Eve when prosecutors said Woodburn remained in his victim’s residence after forcibly opening a locked door.
His political resume also includes serving as chief of staff when Democrat Dick Swett represented the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Late Thursday afternoon, Woodburn removed all his accounts on social media.
A divorced father of five, Woodburn went to social media to confirm last November that he had become engaged to Emily Stone Jacobs.
The two are both Whitefield natives and she most recently worked organizing Coos County for state Democrats.
Woodburn said at that time he got engaged while he and Jacobs were attending the annual conference of the State Legislative Affairs Council in Naples, Fla., last November.
He said the two have known each other since they were children.
“When I was 9 years old, I played ‘Treasure Island’ in the lower barn of a friend’s house,” Woodburn posted late last November on Facebook.
“Years later my friend’s family moved away and sold to a new family with a young daughter. Who would imagine that tonight 42 years later I would return to that spot to ask the beautiful, amazing girl who grew up there to be my wife (and she said yes!) Emily Stone Jacobs is my treasure!”
A graduate of White Mountain Regional High School and Franklin Pierce University, Woodburn also worked as a teacher and part-time writer for several years before returning to elective politics in the Senate in 2012.
He’s also served as the school district moderator for his hometown.
While in politics, Woodburn has been a tireless advocate for services to the North Country.
At times he’s worked with the Senate Republicans in control of the upper chamber as they did on Medicaid expansion and on the failed attempt at last week’s special session to make it harder for states to collect their sales taxes from New Hampshire businesses for purchases made online.
But Woodburn has also served as an outspoken critic of Gov. Chris Sununu on issues ranging from business taxes cuts and Right-to-Work to state budget priorities.
Woodburn represents a district that historically both Democrats and Republicans have held in recent times.