James McConaha and Valery Mitchell: Woodburn has been accused, not convicted

  • State Sen. Jeff Woodburn

Published: 8/7/2018 12:09:57 AM

The concept of due process, one of the foundations of our legal system, presumes innocence until proven guilty. But due process is effectively denied when elected officials and political leaders stand in judgment to convict and sentence anyone accused of a crime or unacceptable behavior.

We have just witnessed this knee-jerk reaction in response to accusations against Jeff Woodburn, the minority leader of the N.H. Senate.

Our entire federal delegation, all but one of his Democratic Senate colleagues, the governor and many others judged him guilty. They called for Woodburn’s resignation as soon as he was charged. Sen. Lou D’Allesandro alone stood up for the rule of law. Many of our state leaders ignored this basic requirement. No need for evidence, no need for investigation, no need for facts, no need for the right of the accused to confront witnesses, no need for due process whatsoever.

Frontier justice at its best. Why bother with legal niceties when you can destroy a person’s job, reputation and role in his community by simply declaring his guilt and, in this case, by calling for his resignation from office – which would “prove” his guilt.

The call for Woodburn’s resignation from his fellow Democrats is understandable. One of the first rules for elected officials is to cover your butt and make sure you’re not tainted in any way. But to abandon the rule of law for personal protection is cowardice.

Republicans will weigh in, too, trying to find a chink in the armor they can use to discredit the other party. Democrats are equally guilty when a Republican errs. Facts are irrelevant.

What is most disturbing is Gov. Chris Sununu’s unequivocal statement that, “Sen. Woodburn’s morally reprehensible, violent behavior has no place in public service, or anywhere else.” Why would this governor, who is so popular and well-respected for very legitimate reasons, not take his cue from Gordon MacDonald, his own attorney general, who ended his press release about the Woodburn charges by stating, “The charges and allegations are merely accusations, and Mr. Woodburn is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

Woodburn joins a long line of people who are accused and immediately labeled “guilty” by colleagues and the media. Jeff Woodburn is a good man, a tireless advocate for his constituents in the North Country and a man who has served his district and the state with honor. He deserves what the law provides: due process and presumption of innocence unless and until proven guilty.

(James McConaha and Valery Mitchell live in Concord.)

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