Judge must decide if Powerball winning ‘Jane Doe’ can remain anonymous

Judge Charles Temple listens to attorney Steven M. Gordon, who represents lottery winner “Jane Doe,” during a hearing in the Jane Doe v. New Hampshire Lottery Commission case at Hillsborough Superior Court in Nashua on Tuesday. Lawyers representing a New Hampshire woman, who says she has a Powerball ticket that won a $559.7 million jackpot, are requesting that a judge grant her a request to stay anonymous.

NASHUA – The New Hampshire woman who won a $566 million Powerball drawing in January would be more than willing to provide to the state Lottery Commission all of her “personal identifiers” – as long as her name and address are not disclosed to the public.

Ever since “Jane Doe” realized that by signing her ticket she signed away any expectation of privacy, her attorney said in court Tuesday, she’s been living in near constant stress, worried that if her name does become public, she will be besieged by requests, and even demands, that she “share the wealth” with others.

But the fact she did sign the ticket makes it a public document, which has left the state Lottery Commission with no other choice than to disclose her identity and town of residence, according to Assistant Attorney General John Conforti, who is representing the commission in a unique case now working its way through the Superior Court system.

Conforti and “Jane Doe’s” lawyers, Manchester attorneys Steven Gordon and Bill Shaheen, argued their respective positions on the matter at a roughly 90-minute hearing Tuesday morning in Hillsborough County Superior Court South. “Doe” did not attend the hearing.

Judge Charles Temple said he would review the attorneys’ arguments as well as the commission’s pending response to Gordon’s most recent motion and issue a ruling within a couple days.

Gordon’s motion essentially asks that the court allow his client to present her ticket and claim her winnings as soon as possible.

If she were to wait until the case is resolved, Gordon said, she would stand to lose a substantial amount of money: For every day the jackpot goes uncollected, she loses roughly $14,000 per day, or about $500,000 per month, in interest.

Shaheen said he has now set up a trust for Doe – Good Karma Family Trust of 2018 – of which Shaheen is trustee. “This money is just sitting there … it’s very important that we redeem this ticket and she gets on with her life,” he said.

Conforti told Temple the commission would likely assent to the motion, but asked for a day or two to file its response.

Commission Executive Director Charles McIntyre agreed with Conforti, noting that Doe’s motion to collect the money is a separate issue. “We don’t want to be in a position that is adversarial with our prize winners,” McIntyre said, adding that lottery prize winners “are our customers.”

“Doe,” a New Hampshire resident believed to live in Merrimack, didn’t realize when she signed the ticket that she had the option of signing it with the name of a trust – thereby allowing her to remain anonymous.

In an impromptu press conference in the hallway outside the courtroom, Gordon and Shaheen told a bevy of reporters from around New England that the information printed on the back of each lottery ticket should explain the rules more clearly.

“If you sign the back of the ticket, you lose your anonyminity,” Gordon said, referring to suggested wording. “That simple.”

Instead, Gordon argued in court, the information contains “no warning whatsoever … that signing the ticket will require (a winner’s) name to be revealed. Nothing.”

While the commission has cited the importance of transparency in its motions and arguments, Gordon countered that it has offered “no real articulation as to what the disclosure of her name would reveal about what’s going on at the commission.”

He referred to the public’s right to view the goings-on of a public state agency, with which Gordon said he agrees. But what he is questioning is why the commission considers releasing the woman’s name is of “substantial public interest.”

Conforti argued that not naming lottery winners could lead to concerns by some that the commission is being less than forthcoming about its operations.

“Knowing who wins would inform the public of what’s happening with the (lottery) games,” he said. The agency’s goal is “to make it as clear as possible.

“When someone wins $566 million in a public lottery, there is public interest in knowing who the winner is,” Conforti added.

Gordon, reiterating some of the points he made in one of his motions, said disclosure of his client’s name would not only draw a whole lot of unwanted attention, but could likely compromise her and her family’s safety.

He said his firm already has received hundreds of requests for money from sick or homeless people and a slew of “investment opportunities,” one of which came from an Indonesian pallet company looking to expand its business throughout Asia.

“How does a person deal with all that … never mind real concerns about threats to her safety?” Gordon said. “There is documented history of people being harmed, people coming into their homes.”

Asked after the hearing if his client is under a “significant amount of stress,” Gordon said she is.

“It’s unreal. Unreal,” he said.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.