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Spofford’s Attorney Tells Judge NHPR Engaged in ‘Reckless Disregard’ of Facts

Despite hundreds of pages of evidence already submitted by Granite State Recovery founder Eric Spofford’s legal team, New Hampshire Public Radio says none of it adds up to malice, the key component for a defamation case.

“Zero plus zero still equals zero,” said Sigmund Schutz, NHPR’s attorney during Tuesday’s hearing in Rockingham Superior Court.

Spofford filed the defamation lawsuit against NHPR in October, claiming the public radio station ruined his life and career when it reported a story in which three women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. NHPR is trying to get the case dismissed before it can go to trial, arguing that Spofford aims to silence any critic who might come forward against him.

“This kind of lawsuit has a real chilling effect,” Schutz said. “The objective of this litigation is that just by filing, win or lose, is to silence critics,” Schutz said.

Howard Cooper, representing Spofford, said a trial is needed so a jury can weigh in on the radio station’s reporting, which he characterized as reckless at best.

“This case is about the intentional ignoring of the facts pre, during, and post-publication,” Cooper said. “There is no constitutional value in defamatory speech, and there is no chilling effect by requiring the media not to make up facts.”

Schutz said NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian thoroughly reported, corroborated, and documented the story, which was published online in March, and the subject of over-the-air broadcast reports and podcasts. In the story, a former Granite State Recovery client and two former employees alleged they were harassed. The employees alleged that they were sexually assaulted.

At no point did NHPR report that Spofford was guilty of any crime when it laid out the women’s story, Schutz said. Schutz said that Spofford was given ample opportunity to comment on the story as it was being reported, and his denials of the accusations were reported.

“(Spofford) can deny the accusations are true, but he can’t deny that the accusations were made,” Schutz said.

But Cooper claimed NHPR’s reporting process is dubious, leaving out key details and using suspect sources to corroborate the story it wanted to tell.

In one instance, NHPR reported Spofford sent pictures of his penis to one of the women using Snap Chat, despite the reporter never seeing the photos for herself. She relied on claims from the alleged victims.

“That is so outrageous and improbable, no responsible news organization or reporter would have reported that,” Cooper said.

Another breach in NHPR’s reporting happened when former Granite State Recovery Human Resources Director Lynsie Miterer called Chooljian after one part of the story aired to correct her reporting on one of the accusations of sexual assault. Cooper said Chooljian reacted with hostility and never used any of the information from Miterer that challenged the reporting.

There is also the matter of the third alleged victim, known in the story as Employee B. NHPR reported Employee B claimed she was sexually assaulted by Spofford, but Chooljian never spoke to that woman. Instead, the reporter spoke to other people who claimed to have corroborating information.

“They should not have reported that,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the totality of the evidence already gathered shows sources who were ignored when they contradicted NHPR’s storyline, and weak corroboration, was used to push a narrative. All of it, he said, adds up to a case that needs to go to trial.

“This story never should have been published, reporters knew or recklessly disregarded facts that were staring them in the face and given to them,” Cooper said.

Judge Dan St. Hilaire will now consider the arguments from both sides. He is expected to make a ruling sometime in the next 30 days. If he finds for Spofford, NHPR would find itself before a jury to defend how it reports the news.

Court Docs: Spofford’s Disgruntled Ex Gave NHPR Abuse Story

When New Hampshire Public Radio reported former Granite Recover CEO Eric Spofford, a political ally of Gov. Chris Sununu, engaged in a pattern of sexual abuse and harassment, it created political shockwaves.

But what the public news outlet didn’t report is that it allegedly relied heavily on a single source: Spofford’s ex, Amy Anagnost.

According to new documents filed in the Rockingham Superior Court, Anagnost was supplying NHPR with the material while she was engaged in an ugly custody battle with Spofford. Those records also show Anagnost threatened her current husband with the same treatment Spofford got.

NHPR, for its part, denies Amy Anagnost was a source for the story.

“NHPR’s reporting about Eric Spofford is based on sources identified in the story, none of whom are Amy Anagnost,” said Jayme Simoes, NHPR’s communications consultant.

Spofford, who has denied all wrongdoing, is currently suing NHPR for defamation. The taxpayer-subsidized news outlet is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed. But Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, wrote in his objection to the motion to dismiss that new evidence showing Anagnost was the main source for the story strengthens the complaint that NHPR acted recklessly when reporting the story.

“Eric has uncovered that Amy both supplied her own false claims about him to (NHPR reporter Lauren) Chooljian and served as a source clearinghouse for Chooljian as she investigated and wrote the article and podcast. The NHPR defendants relied on Amy and the sources she cherry-picked for Chooljian, despite her obvious unreliability (after years of long-term recovery from alcoholism and addiction, she has relapsed, and that relapse occurred at or around when she started as a source for the NHPR defendants) and notwithstanding her known and unmistakable bias against and ill-will toward Eric as reflected in publicly available records,” Strauss wrote.

Amy Anagnost is involved in a contested divorce with her current husband, Alex Anagnost, son of real estate developer Dick Anagnost. According to documents filed in that proceeding, Amy Anagnost falsely claimed she had nothing to do with the NHPR reporting on Spofford.

“A recent court filing by Amy’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Alex Anagnost, confirms that Amy ‘fed questionable information about her relationship with Eric to’ Chooljian for inclusion in the Article and Podcast, which Amy then used against Eric to alienate him from their son and as a weapon in their parenting dispute,” Strauss writes.

Evidence uncovered by Alex Anagnost includes numerous text messages between Chooljian and Amy Anagnost, according to Strauss.

“Amy’s own text messages reveal that she has helped steer Chooljian’s investigation ‘[s]ince [Chooljian] started the article.’  And because of their work together, Chooljian and Amy formed a close bond, which clouded Chooljian’s judgment and neutrality—an affront to the proper ethical boundaries between a reporter and her source,” Strauss wrote.

One text from Amy Anagnost describes Chooljian as a “G”, which Strauss writes is slang for “Gangster.”

“Implying that she and Chooljian’s relationship is rooted in a loyalty and common devotion to destroying Eric,” he wrote.

Contacted by NH Journal, Amy Anagnost continued to deny she acted as a source for NHPR.

“I was never a source for the article, but thank you,” she said.

When asked about the court documents that named her as a source, Amy Anagnost continued to deny her involvement.

“I don’t believe you have any documentation that says anything because I wasn’t a source,” she said.

Strauss declined to comment on the court filings and Amy Anagnost’s denials when contacted this week.

“This is a matter for the courts. We will see what people say when they have to produce documents and testify under oath,” Strauss said.

Amy Anagnost has been open about her addiction to alcohol and opioids in the past, but while she was Chooljian’s source she was publicly drinking and posting about her exploits on social media, according to court records. Once the NHPR story was published she reportedly used it in family court proceedings against Spofford, according to Strauss’s motion. She also tried to get her son to read the NHPR stories to alienate him from his father, according to court records in the Alex Anagnost case.

Amy Anagnost also allegedly threatened to spread stories about her husband during an angry confrontation with Dick Anagnost, according to court records.

“When Amy met with Dick to discuss her alcoholism, she told him that she would ‘get Alex like she got Eric,’ and that the Anagnost family ‘would all be sorry,’” one of the court Alex Anagnost documents states.

While NHPR had few sources on the record in the articles and podcasts about Spofford, Amy Anagnost was never mentioned in the reporting. According to the objection filed by NHPR’s attorney Sigmund Schutz, Spofford hasn’t proved that Amy Anagnost is the source behind the reporting. The text messages entered into the record, for example, are not authenticated, according to Schutz.

“The procedural problem is that the key document Spofford submits, an exchange of text messages is unauthenticated and unexplained. On its face, it does not even establish who the parties to the exchange are,” Schutz wrote. 

Even if the texts are genuine, Schutz writes, it does not disprove the stories about Spofford.

“Nothing in the texts suggests that NHPR acted with actual malice. They do not suggest that anything Anagnost may have said to Chooljian was false, that Anagnost encouraged anyone else to say anything to NHPR that was false, or that NHPR knew or suspected that anything it reported was false,” Schutz wrote.

NHPR is seeking to have the case dismissed on the grounds that as a public figure, Spofford cannot prove malice on the part of the public broadcaster.

“What Spofford’s complaint does not do is allege actual facts that could support a finding that Chooljian, or anyone else at NHPR, engaged in actionable defamation,” writes Schutz. “Because Spofford is a public figure, to plead a defamation claim he must allege not just that NHPR got the story wrong, but facts that, if proven, would demonstrate actual malice—meaning that the journalists in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the story, or had a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity, but published it anyway.”

Spofford’s original complaint claims NHPR ignored on-the-record sources who contradicted the claims being made about sexual abuse. In one instance, one of the on-the-record sources, Piers Kaniuka, retracted his statements linking Spofford to the abuse. That retraction went unreported by NHPR, according to the lawsuit.

Spofford built a politically connected profile with Granite Recovery Centers. As the drug abuse recovery centers became the largest recovery facilities in New Hampshire, Spofford even counseled Sununu on the response to New Hampshire’s opioid epidemic.

Spofford sold Granite Recovery Centers to Bay Mark Health Services, a Texas-based treatment company last year. The sale price has not been disclosed.


Shoddy Reporting and ‘Woke’ Bias: Spofford Sues NHPR

Former Granite Recovery Centers CEO Eric Spofford is suing New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Lauren Chooljian, alleging she has engaged in a biased campaign targeting the politically-connected businessman.

According to his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Rockingham Superior Court, “Chooljian viewed Eric as her opportunity to ascend the journalism ranks. To Chooljian, a #MeToo-styled report about a white male, Republican donor, and bold and successful businessman, who made money in the substance use disorder treatment business, had all the markings of a career-defining piece.”

Spofford is being represented by high-powered attorney Howard Cooper with the Boston firm Todd & Weld. Jayme Simoes, a communications consultant with NHPR, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the public radio station had not yet been served.

“NHPR has not been served with a lawsuit and cannot comment on a suit they haven’t seen,” Simoes said.

Chooljian made waves when she reported in March that Spofford sexually harassed multiple women. The accusations included at least one sexual assault Spofford committed on a former Granite State Recovery Centers employee.

Spofford is a big, and potentially attractive, target for the left-leaning media outlet. Politically connected to Gov. Chris Sununu, Spofford’s drug abuse recovery centers became the largest recovery facilities in New Hampshire. According to Chooljian’s reporting, Spofford even counseled Sununu on the response to New Hampshire’s opined epidemic.

“Sununu championed Spofford, saying he is ‘one of the first guys I’ll pick up the phone to’ for advice about responding to the opioid crisis,” Chooljian wrote.

Spofford sold Granite Recovery Centers to BayMark Health Services, a Texas-based treatment company, last year. The sale price was not disclosed.

Spofford’s lawsuit claims that one of the sources Chooljian relied on, former GSC employee Piers Kaniuka, retracted his statements that linked Spofford to the abuse. That retraction has gone unreported by NHPR, according to the lawsuit.

“Specifically, I am concerned with your use of my statement comparing Mr. Spofford to Harvey Weinstein and my statement that Mr. Spofford should be prosecuted. At the time I made those statements to Ms. Chooljian, I naively assumed that I would have been provided an opportunity to vet any statements I made, and to provide permission for them to be used, prior to their publication as part of the article,” Kaniuka wrote to NHPR’s board in May. “I regret making those statements. I did not have any direct personal knowledge concerning any sexual abuse, misconduct, or other inappropriate behavior by Mr. Spofford with employees, clients, or former clients.”

According to the lawsuit, “Kaniuka was one of only four on-the-record sources identified in Chooljian’s reporting. Of those four, Kaniuka was the only one who had known Eric for nearly two decades. Two of the others had been acquainted with Eric as employees of GRC for less than three months each, and one had never even met Eric.”

Since Kaniuka wrote that letter to NHPR, the retraction has been suppressed by the radio station, according to the lawsuit.

“NHPR instead has decided for its readers and listeners that Kaniuka’s statement is irrelevant to Chooljian’s reporting about Eric. Yet NHPR knows the opposite is true,” the lawsuit states.

The motivation behind the story is money and ambition, according to the lawsuit. NHPR has used its Spofford coverage to seek donations and corporate sponsorships while Chooljian used it to get a job with a national media outlet.

“On information and belief, taking down Eric became a means to Chooljian’s end goal: to join a national news organization,” the lawsuit states. “On information and belief, NHPR was depending on Chooljian’s piece to aid its fundraising efforts this year. If Chooljian could deliver reporting that took down someone NHPR viewed as a prominent figure in the state, that would garner national attention and greater visibility to donors nationwide.”

Spofford’s lawsuit even accuses Chooljian and NHPR of trying to link him to a case of vandalism at her home.

“A reporter’s current and former homes in Melrose, Mass., and Hampstead, N.H., were vandalized early in the morning of Saturday, May 21, police said. In Melrose, a person spray-painted the words “Just the beginning!” in red on the home, threw a brick through a window and was seen running away,” the NHPR report states.

The report quotes Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle who connected the vandalism to Spofford.

“I would certainly think [Spofford] may be interviewed by the authorities. He may have some information that might support a case. It would be too early to say he would be a person of interest,” Lyle said. “After the article came out, all this trouble started for the reporter or the news organization. At some point [investigators] may have a conversation with him.”

Spofford’s lawsuit takes issue with his even being mentioned in the story about the vandalism, saying it was part of an effort to divert the public’s attention away from the Kaniuka retraction.

“The NHPR defendants knowingly weaponized a conspiratorial connection between Eric and the alleged vandalism as a means for the NHPR defendants to deflect from their suppression of the Kaniuka retraction. There was not a scintilla of evidence connecting Eric to the alleged vandalism—the alleged vandal was caught on camera and was very obviously not Eric,” the lawsuit states.