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Privacy vs. transparency as lottery case has its day in court

Union Leader Correspondent

February 13. 2018 9:20PM
Steven Gordon and William Shaheen of Shaheen and Gordon law firm say their client -- the $560 million Powerball winner -- is stressed about having her name revealed. They have asked the court to keep her name private while she redeems her prize money. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA — The mystery woman in possession of the winning $560 million Powerball ticket purchased last month in Merrimack is highly stressed and is preparing to have security guards in place should her name be revealed, according to her lawyers.

“She doesn’t want to be a celebrity,” said William Shaheen of Shaheen and Gordon law firm.

Shaheen said his client, who has filed a lawsuit against the New Hampshire Lottery Commission seeking to keep her identity a secret, is entitled to her money and has already created The Good Karma Family Trust of 2018.

Assistant Attorney General John Conforti argued the problem is that she signed the back of the ticket with her name instead of the name of the trust, making it a public document.

Attorneys for both sides argued the merits of the case on Tuesday at Hillsborough County Superior Court; the winner was not present.

“When you win this kind of money, you realize you have responsibilities. A lot of people think it is just glitter — there is a lot of stress involved,” said Shaheen.

“We come to the court today in a Catch 22, not of our own making,” said attorney Steven Gordon, representing the winner. He said his client followed the commission’s instructions and signed her name and hometown on the ticket, essentially losing her right to anonymity, which could have been avoided if she had first assigned it to a trust.

Now, the woman known in court records as Jane Doe wants to cash in her ticket, he said, adding the ticket and the prize sit in limbo pending a court ruling on whether she can keep her identity private.

Gordon maintains that if her name is revealed, she could be subject to harassment, threats or violence.

“The lottery thrives on transparency,” argued Conforti. He said taxpayers need to know that the commission is running the games in an appropriate manner with integrity and fairness.

Charles McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, said the commission wants to work with the winner and is prepared to allow the funds to be assigned to a trust and transferred. It will be up to the court to decide whether the ticket with the winner’s signature becomes public under several Right-to-Know requests already received by the commission, including one from the New Hampshire Union Leader.

“You have to understand, this ticket is the most valuable piece of paper on the planet Earth,” McIntyre said. He said the $560 million prize is the public’s money, collected from 45 other jurisdictions around the nation.

“It is our biggest win ever,” he said of New Hampshire, adding that while he is not downplaying the woman’s desire for privacy, she now has no financial worries — ever.

Conforti said the ticket is a public document, and the commission believes that it is best to be transparent with the lottery process so that the public can see that winners are not connected to the lottery or the state, or that winners are not in clusters or related.

“We have a substantial public interest in disclosure of those public documents,” he said, adding Doe is asking for a substantial extension of privacy protection under the state’s Right-to-Know law.

Gordon argued that the commission has nothing to do with the Powerball game, explaining that it is handled by the Multi-State Lottery Association, and that disclosure of the woman’s identity will reveal nothing about the commission’s activities.

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