In a legal setback for the liberal news outlet, the New Hampshire Public Radio reporter behind a story targeting former Granite State Recovery CEO Eric Spofford has been ordered to hand over her reporting notes and interview transcripts in his defamation case against the station.
Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire ruled this week that Spofford has a right to review the reporting materials NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian created when she reported on the serious allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Spofford.
“Upon review, the Court agrees with Spofford that some of the discovery materials he requests could, in theory, include evidence that the NHPR defendants acted with actual malice,” St. Hilaire wrote.
Spofford and his legal team will be able to review notes Chooljian took and transcripts of recorded interviews she conducted with witnesses and alleged victims. The materials must first be produced for the judge to review in a non-public “in camera” hearing where it will be determined what, if anything, is relevant to Spofford’s case.
NHPR objected to the discovery request on the grounds it would ultimately have a chilling effect on speech.
The records to be reviewed include interviews and any correspondence Chooljian had with NHPR colleagues about these sources and their perceived credibility.
Spofford maintained the sources Chooljian used for the story lied and had obvious credibility issues. He also argued Chooljian likely knew there were problems with the sources, but she and NHPR reported the story anyway.
One key source Spofford is targeting in his search for proof of malice is his ex-girlfriend, Amy Anagnost Cloutier. Spofford has claimed in court records Anagnost Cloutier was intent on ruining his reputation as part of a bitter custody dispute.
Chooljian reported allegations against Spofford last year involving women who either worked for him or were clients at his recovery centers. Spofford has maintained his denials throughout the reporting and subsequent lawsuit against NHPR.
St. Hilaire initially ruled against Spofford in April, stating the lawsuit did not show actual malice on the part of Chooljian and NHPR. The judge did give Spofford time to amend his lawsuit to add more evidence of malice, and Spofford’s quest for documents was part of that effort.
Chooljian and NHPR have not been idle in the months since the ruling. The public broadcaster is releasing a podcast this month, including a new allegation against Spofford. Spofford offered to sit down for an interview with Chooljian for the podcast, but his offer was rejected.
As part of the ruling, Spofford must pay for all the recorded interviews he requested to be transcribed. Spofford sold Granite State Recovery to a Texas company last year for an undisclosed sum.