By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
The New Hampshire Public Radio defendants Eric Spofford sued for defamation have asked the judge to deny his motion seeking the recorded interviews and notes used in reporting the story.
Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel I. St. Hilaire dismissed Spofford’s lawsuit on April 17, but gave him 30 days to amend his complaint to focus on allegations of actual malice on the part of NHPR.
Nine days later, Spofford’s attorneys filed a motion for discovery to obtain NHPR’s recorded interviews and notes used in reporting the story.
On Monday, attorney Sigmund Schutz, who represents NHPR and senior reporters Lauren Chooljian and Jason Moon, along with editor Dan Barrack, asked St. Hilaire to deny Spofford’s latest motion for partial discovery.
“Spofford identified no evidence from which malice could be inferred in his complaint, and his motion for discovery provides no reason to expect that the discovery he seeks would lead him to such evidence,” Schutz wrote. “The Court should decline to issue an order that would let Spofford go digging around in NHPR’s files, based on nothing more than generalized conclusory accusations, in search of a factual basis for his claim.”
The story claimed Spofford, who is the founder and former owner of Granite Recovery Centers, sexually assaulted two former employees and sexually harassed one former client. Spofford denies all of the claims.
Because St. Hilaire ruled Spofford a limited public figure in dismissing the suit, he said Spofford must show actual malice that NHPR reported the story knowing it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.
St. Hilaire said in dismissing the lawsuit that Spofford had not done so and gave him 30 days to amend his complaint to show any actual malice or the dismissal would stand.
Spofford’s attorneys Michael Strauss and Joseph Cacace filed the motion nine days after dismissal seeking the recorded interviews and notes. Strauss didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
St. Hilaire wrote in the dismissal, “[a]bsent clearer indicia that the NHPR defendants acted in bad faith in relying on these sources, or were subjectively aware that the information provided by these sources was probably false, the [original complaint] fails to allege actual malice.”
Spofford’s attorneys said they sought the limited discovery to cure the deficiencies St. Hilaire found in Spofford’s complaint that led to the judge dismissing the lawsuit before trial.
Schutz noted that Spofford’s attorneys offered to have him sign an affidavit stating all the allegations are false.
“Spofford had ample opportunity in his 90-page complaint to allege facts sufficient to
establish actual malice, where (as characterized in the motion) he alleged generally that ‘each
source [NHPR relied on] was biased, motivated to harm Eric’s reputation, and inherently
unreliable . . . .'” Schutz wrote.
“NHPR’s story was based on nearly 50 sources—4 who are named, and 2 more whom Spofford acknowledges are real. Beyond his generalized insistence that everyone is out to get him, Spofford has failed to allege a factual basis for concluding that NHPR’s sources lied, let alone—as would be required
to establish actual malice—that NHPR either knew that its story was false or acted with reckless
disregard for its truth or falsity,” Schutz wrote.
Spofford’s attorneys had argued that in New Hampshire it is up to the jury to decide who is and who is not a public figure and therefore would have to prove actual malice to prevail, but St. Hilaire disagreed and said it was his decision to make as the judge.
In dismissing the case last month, St. Hilaire pointed to Spofford’s amended complaint and his former status as a leader in the substance abuse disorder community testifying before the U.S. Senate and co-authoring a book on recovery as well as describing connections to former Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Chris Sununu arising from his recovery expertise.
“In the court’s view Spofford cannot simultaneously claim that he had a nationally prominent reputation based on his inspirational story of recovery while also arguing he is not a public figure in the controversy surrounding opioid addiction,” St. Hilaire wrote.
Spofford’s attorneys are seeking unredacted recordings of NHPR’s interviews of “Elizabeth,” “Employee A,” Nancy Bourque, Justin Downey, Piers Kaniuka, and Brian Stoesz, according to the motion filed April 26.
The lawyers are also seeking Lauren Chooljian’s notes concerning and communications with them, along with her notes with Lynsie Metivier, and recordings (if any) of their March 22, 2022, phone call; and Chooljian’s notes and communications with the mother of Spofford’s eldest son, Amy Cloutier (formerly Anagnost), and recordings (if any) of her interviews.
Spofford’s lawyers also asked St. Hilaire to stay the deadline to file his amended complaint until after the judge rules on the motion for limited discovery, and if granted until 30 days after NHPR turns over the requested recordings and notes.