The New Hampshire woman who recently won a $560 million Powerball jackpot on Monday prevailed in her legal fight to keep her name out of the press, but the Fourth Estate could soon be descending on her hometown.
In a 15-page decision, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Charles S. Temple ruled that the identity of the woman, dubbed Jane Doe in court papers, will remain off-limits to the prying eyes of reporters who file public records requests, but her city or town of residence will be disclosed.
Temple wrote that Doe has a compelling privacy interest in keeping her name secret.
“[T]he court has no doubts whatsoever that should Ms. Doe’s identity be revealed, she will be subject to an alarming amount of harassment, solicitation, and other unwanted communications,” Temple wrote. “Although the [New Hampshire Lottery] Commission dismisses this harassment as trivial and/or speculative, for the court to do so would require it to ignore the significant media attention this case has received, the numerous documented bad experiences of other lottery winners, as well as the bevy of unsolicited e-mails, phone calls, and in-person visits already directed at Miss Doe through her attorneys.”
Doe, Temple wrote, has “met her burden” showing her privacy interest outweighs the public’s interest in the release of her name.
But if she wants to keep her hometown secret, Doe’s considerable luck may have finally run out.
“Indeed, given that any (female) person in Ms. Doe’s hometown could potentially be the winner, it is highly unlikely that Ms. Doe could be identified as the winner based solely on the disclosure of that limited piece of information,” Temple wrote, adding that Doe’s municipality “must be disclosed pursuant to a Right-to-Know request.”
Steven M. Gordon, a lawyer for Doe, said Monday in a phone interview that his client welcomed the ruling.
“Her word to me was that she is ecstatic about the court’s decision,” said Gordon, who co-founded the high-powered Shaheen & Gordon law firm with Bill Shaheen, a former US attorney in New Hampshire and husband of Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Doe, Gordon said, “had a great deal of stress throughout this process, and this decision was helpful to address some of that stress.”
The stress set in after Doe purchased the winning ticket from Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack, N.H. on Jan. 6.
She sued the New Hampshire Lottery Commission on Jan. 29 for the right to remain anonymous when she claimed her windfall.
According to Doe’s civil complaint, she visited the commission’s website after learning she won and followed the agency’s instructions for redeeming her prize, signing the back of the ticket and printing her address and phone number.
But after speaking with a lawyer, Doe realized she could have maintained her privacy if a trustee had signed the ticket instead.
Doe requested in the lawsuit that the state withhold her name from public disclosure or replace her identifying information with that of a trust she created. The commission said any alteration of the ticket would make it invalid.
Attorneys for Doe last week collected the winnings on behalf of her Good Karma Family 2018 Nominee Trust.
The payout netted Doe $264 million after taxes, and her lawyers announced a combined $250,000 contribution from the trust to Girls Inc. of New Hampshire and three chapters of End 68 Hours of Hunger.
In a brief statement Monday, Charlie McIntyre, the New Hampshire Lottery’s executive director, said the ruling surprised his agency.
“While we were expecting a different outcome and believed the State had a strong argument, we respect the court’s decision,” McIntyre said. “That said, we will consult with the Attorney General’s office to determine appropriate next steps regarding the case.”
Maura McCann, a spokeswoman for the Lottery Commission, said in an e-mail that the state couldn’t release Doe’s hometown Monday, since “the ruling is not yet a final decision, still subject to final review and appeal.”
Gordon, the lawyer for Doe, said publicity surrounding the matter has dwarfed his prior cases, including a high-profile lawsuit brought by families of people killed by James “Whitey” Bulger.
“The publicity from the [Bulger] case was minuscule compared to this case,” Gordon said. “They weren’t even close to being comparable. Certainly there was something about the luck of the winner, the right to privacy, [the question of] what would you do if you won.”
He said the intense public interest in the Powerball suit “was unprecedented from my perspective.”