Editorial: 9 days of disheartening testimony in Webber-Goodwin case (NH)

After hearing nine days of testimony in Strafford County Probate Court, Judge Gary Cassavechia will hear final arguments Tuesday and then decide whether Portsmouth Police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin exerted undue influence on Geraldine Webber, and whether she had the mental capacity to legally change her will to leave him the bulk of her $2.7 million estate.

The testimony has been disheartening for the public and, we expect, for most of the honest and hardworking rank and file members of the Portsmouth Police Department.

The testimony has reflected poorly on Sgt. Goodwin, on the Portsmouth Police Department’s top officials who joked about Goodwin’s relationship with Webber, and on the state’s Bureau of Elderly Affairs, which could have done much more to protect her. Former police chief Lou Ferland also damaged his credibility by insisting he didn’t know Goodwin stood to inherit Webber’s home until after her death in December 2012. Multiple witnesses testified that they had spoken to Ferland directly about the matter before her death. The Portsmouth Herald had a front page story about it on Nov. 4, 2012 and a court hearing on the matter was held Nov. 8, 2012, all prior to Webber’s death.

Whether or not Goodwin gets the estate, now substantially diminished by the cost of litigation, will be dictated by the law and not necessarily by what would appear to a reasonable person to be right or wrong. As we reported when the City Council discussed this matter last year, the burden of proof in probate court is extremely high. When Dr. Ira Schwartz, Webber’s personal physician for 20 years, said several times in his testimony that Webber had dementia, a reasonable person would likely conclude the burden of proof had been met. In probate court, however, the only opinion that matters is Judge Cassavechia’s.

While the public has little influence in the probate court, it will have enormous influence when responding to the facts presented by the Police Commission investigation led by retired Judge Stephen Roberts.

Since many of the witnesses testifying in probate court would have given similar testimony to Roberts, we can fully expect a report that is highly critical of the Portsmouth Police Department’s policies and leadership.

The fact that Goodwin testified that he “wouldn’t do anything different,” in the face of everything he now knows about Geraldine Webber is simply testament to a man’s infinite ability to believe what he wants to believe. Ordinary citizens who don’t have a direct financial stake in the matter will conclude that the Police Department is in serious need of reform.

Police Chief Stephen DuBois seems to have come to the same conclusion. On April 21 he told the Herald he’s been working on: “a complete overhaul of our policies relating to citizens’ complaints, internal affairs and discipline.” He’s sending five supervisors, ranked lieutenant or higher, to the FBI for internal affairs training. There will also be training on elderly mental health issues and financial exploitation, the chief said. Time will tell whether the chief’s actions are simply damage control or genuine reform aimed at increasing the department’s accountability.

City police leaders were slow to realize the implications of Geraldine Webber leaving her estate to Aaron Goodwin. If the probate ruling and the Roberts investigation begin to change a culture of entitlement to one of accountability, where allegations of the exploitation of a Portsmouth citizen are taken seriously and not treated as a joke, that will be Geraldine Webber’s true legacy to the community she called home for so many years.

Attribution:

Editorial: 9 days of disheartening testimony in Webber-Goodwin case
May 8, 2015
SeaCoastOnline.com
http://www.seacoastonline.com/article/20150508/NEWS/150509231/101180/OPINION

Share
News