NASHUA, N.H. — The winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot has yet to claim her prize, but her lawyers say she is already being preyed upon and is highly stressed.
When the winner, known in court papers only as Jane Doe, said last month that she wanted to remain anonymous, New Hampshire officials said they could not give her the money — the seventh largest jackpot in U.S. history — unless her name was made public.
Since then, her lawyers have been deluged with offers from around the world of ideas for how she might get the money and still keep her privacy.
Dozens of people offered to legally change their names to match Jane Doe’s in order to collect the money for her — for fees of $1 million or more.
A homeless mother of five in North Carolina offered to turn in Jane Doe’s winning ticket in exchange for a six-bedroom house, a used car and a small trust for each of her children.
Someone in Costa Rica would accept the winning ticket on behalf of Jane Doe in exchange for $1 million, travel expenses and “warm clothes to wear in New Hampshire.” Other people wrote simply asking for handouts.
The outpouring of appeals, outlined by Jane Doe’s lawyers in legal papers, underscored the point they tried to make on Tuesday in a courtroom in Nashua — that sudden wealth exposes an unsuspecting citizen to vultures, swindlers and other parasites who harass the winner in an attempt to leech off some of the money for themselves.
The lawyers said they want to keep their client’s real name private to protect her from what they described as “violence, threats, harassment, scams and constant unwanted solicitation” that have befallen previous lottery winners.
But New Hampshire’s lottery commission takes a very different stance, arguing that the state has an overriding interest in disclosing the names of lottery winners — not to satisfy the curiosity of neighbors or promote sales of lottery tickets, but as a hedge against corruption.
The commission oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and prizes a year.
“When somebody wins a public lottery of $560 million, there is a public interest in knowing who the winner was, and that it is a fair and equitable process,” John J. Conforti, an assistant attorney general representing the lottery commission, told the court.
The state gave little credence to the argument that identifying Jane Doe would jeopardize her safety, saying that any risk could be managed by engaging a security detail. Jane Doe’s lawyers said they were already lining up bodyguards.
Most states view the names of winners of significant prizes as a matter of public record, though a few permit winners to keep their identities private. Some states, including New Hampshire, allow trusts and not just individuals to claim winnings.
For almost two hours Tuesday, Judge Charles Temple of the Hillsborough County Superior Court heard arguments in the case, which has made headlines around the world for the eye-popping size of the prize and for an “if only” twist in Jane Doe’s plight.
When Jane Doe realized she had the winning ticket, she followed the instructions on the ticket and on the lottery commission’s website to “sign the ticket.”
If only she had talked to a lawyer first, she might have avoided the entire issue. She could have set up a trust that would sign the ticket, claim the prize and be the public face of the winner, rather than Jane Doe personally. But lottery officials say the chance to do that ended when she signed her name.
Jane Doe’s lawyers — Steven M. Gordon and Billy Shaheen, high-powered attorneys in the state — said the ticket and state’s website were misleading because they did not explain that by signing a ticket, winners give up their anonymity. Nowhere, they said, does the website advise the winner “that there is an option for a trust to claim a prize.”
Lottery officials said that they urge winners to sign the ticket as a safeguard in case it is lost or stolen, and that the lottery could not dispense legal advice.
The fact that New Hampshire already allows trusts to sign the tickets, effectively allowing a winner to remain anonymous, undermines the state’s argument that a winner’s identity must be publicly disclosed to protect the integrity of the process, Gordon said.
Before going to court, Jane Doe’s lawyers talked with the lottery commission to try to resolve the matter. Jane Doe’s lawyers suggested that she be allowed to “white-out” her signature in front of the commission — a procedure used at least once, in Ohio — and then have a trust sign it.
The commission rejected that idea, saying removing her name would alter the ticket, which is against the lottery rules, and thus render it void.
Jane Doe’s lawyers also suggested that the original winning ticket could be photocopied and put under seal, while her signature on the photocopy could be covered up and replaced with the name of the trust.
It is not clear when the court might rule in the case.
For each day that passes, Jane Doe is forgoing about $14,000 in interest on the unclaimed winnings.
The two sides indicated that they were close to agreeing that while the judge mulls his decision about whether to make Jane Doe’s name public, the money could be transferred to her.
But that will take at least a few days. Charles R. McIntyre, executive director of the state lottery, who called the winning ticket “the most valuable piece of paper on the planet, more valuable than a Rembrandt,” said it would take some time “to get that much cash in the state.”
It is not known whether Jane Doe has shared news of her jackpot with anyone besides her lawyers.
After court, Shaheen, one of her lawyers, told reporters that his advice to her was simple: “If you like your family and you like your friends and you like your relatives, don’t tell anybody.”