Judge Hears Lottery Case Concerning 'Most Valuable Piece of Paper on Earth'

Feb 13, 2018

N.H. Lottery Commission executive director Charlie McIntyre, right, and assistant Attorney General John Conforti, answering questions following the hearing.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

Lawyers representing the New Hampshire woman who won $560 million playing Powerball were in court on Tuesday, asking a Superior Court judge to let her name be kept secret, despite her having already signed the back of the ticket.

The woman--identified only as Jane Doe in court paperwork--was not in the Nashua courtroom. More than a dozen reporters were, though, reflecting just how much attention she’s likely to receive if her name becomes public information.

[You can read NHPR's previous coverage of this story here.]

That unwanted notoriety is what’s at the heart of her legal argument: Jane Doe is asking the judge to let her be exempt from the state’s Right-to-Know laws, which make the names of lottery winners public record.

The Lottery Commission contends that those rules ensure transparency and trust in the Commission’s internal systems. Jane Doe’s lawyers, including Steve Gordon, reject that position.

“So the idea that identifying who wins a lottery--the name of the person who wins a lottery--how does that tell you anything about what the Commission is up to?” asked Gordon during the hearing. “It’s a feel good argument. ‘We want to be transparent.’ But it has the substance of cotton candy once you start looking at it in detail.”

Lawyers for the State countered that they can’t make exceptions just because of the size of the jackpot.

“We feel that our obligation under the law is to disclose this information,” said John Conforti, an Assistant Attorney General for New Hampshire. “We don’t feel that we can choose when we follow the law, and when we don’t.”

The State also says that Jane Doe’s request to ‘white out’ her name from the back of the ticket and write in that of a trust would void the ticket.

The judge did not issue an immediate ruling in the case.

The two sides, however, say they are close to an agreement that would allow Jane Doe to collect the money in a trust, but keep the winning ticket under seal and out of the public record until a judge issues a ruling on its disclosure.

Her lawyers identified the name of the trust as “The Good Karma Family Trust of 2018,” with Bill Shaheen, law partner of Steve Gordon and husband of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, as the trustee.  

With each day that the ticket remains in legal limbo and unclaimed, Jane Doe’s lawyers say she’s missing out on an estimated $15,000 in possible interest accrual.

“This ticket is the most valuable piece of paper on the planet Earth,” said Charlie McIntyre, executive director of the state Lottery Commission. “It is more valuable than a Rembrandt, more valuable that a U.S. Constitution copy. It just is. It’s half a billion dollars, in 10 square inches.”