Despite her resolve to take office next week, the case of State Representative-Elect Stacie Laughton has taken a legal turn, forcing her to resign her seat.
Based on the language of NH RSA 607-A:2:1 it appears Laughton, a convicted felon who served four months in Belknap County House of Corrections, would have been ineligible to serve for six more years had she not decided to step down.
The case had just been referred to the NH Attorney General's office. Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown was already in the process of reviewing the case when he was told of Laughton's resignation.
"It's more complicated than we first thought, and we haven't figured it out yet, but based on what I've seen so far, it's just as well that she's stepped down," Brown said.
His office will continue to go through the facts of the case. He has not yet rendered a decision on the statute.
"Writing a statute and looking at it with 20./20 hindsight is a lot harder than looking at the future. The legislature does the best job they can do when drafting laws; then it's up to our office to interpret it," Brown said.
A story in the Laconia Daily Sun about Laughton's 2008 conviction in Laconia for conspiracy to commit fraud gained traction over the weekend, surprising party leaders and constituents alike.
Laughton, who is transgender, was convicted and served time while still living as a man, under the name Barry Laughton.
Although a felon in New Hampshire has the right to run for office and vote once they've fulfilled the terms of their sentence, another question was raised earlier Tuesday with the AG's office – whether Laughton was legally able to serve as a state representative due to the open status of two concurrent suspended sentences.
Laughton was sentenced in July of 2008 on three charges. Two of them – 7 1/2 to 15 years for conspiracy to commit credit card fraud and 3 1/2 to 7 years for the falsifying physical evidence – were suspended pending 10 years of good behavior.
She was sentenced to serve 12 months with four months suspended in the Belknap County House of Corrections for conspiracy to commit fraud. According to Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons, Laughton served about 4 1/2 months in jail and was released on Nov. 21, 2008.
Laughton's probation ended on Nov. 22, 2010. She was ordered to pay $1,991 in restitution, joint and severed with Lisa Laughton. To date, $1,706 remains unpaid, said Lyons.
Although she did fulfill the terms of her 12-month sentence on conspiracy to commit fraud, since two of the convictions against her were suspended pending 10 years good behavior, she has six more years to wait for her chance to run for office.
"I'm extremely disappointed," Laughton said Tuesday during a phone interview, after conferring with New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley and Gene Martin, the party's director of research and legislative outreach.
Laughton said she also conferred with her own attorney, who advised her that she could fight it, but did not have a strong case.
"He said given the magnitude of this, it will cost a lot and I don't have a very strong argument," Laughton said.
"I'm not going to step away from the public eye. I'm going to stay involved and continue my activism and the advocacy work I've done," Laughton said. "I'm very bold and not afraid to put myself out there, despite my past. I won't stop serving my community in whatever capacity I can."
Laughton said she will be drafting a letter to be sent to the Secretary of State's office, with assistance from Martin, to formally resign her seat.
Buckley released the following statement late Tuesday on behalf of the state Democratic party:
"I respect Stacie's decision not to be seated in the New Hampshire House and am confident that the new Democratic House majority will stay focused on the work they were sent there by voters to do: move New Hampshire and our economy forward."