Now that federal prosecutors say former Granite Recovery CEO Eric Spofford is connected to the men who vandalized the homes of New Hampshire Public Radio journalists, the broadcaster wants to shut down his access to reporting notes and recordings.
“NHPR believes that this lawsuit was filed, not because Spofford’s claims have any conceivable merit, but instead to harass and retaliate against a news organization for its journalism,” wrote Sigmund Schutz, attorney for NHPR.
Spofford is trying to revive his lawsuit against NHPR for its reporting on allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted women he encountered at the drug recovery centers. One of his arguments in the original 300-plus page lawsuit is that NHPR unfairly linked him to the vandalism at the journalists’ homes connected to the story.
However, federal prosecutors said last month Spofford has a connection to the three men charged for allegedly throwing bricks at and vandalizing the New Hampshire and Massachusetts homes of NHPR journalists Lauren Chooljian and Dan Barrick.
Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, N.H., Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook, N.H., Hampshire, and Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua, N.H., are each charged with conspiring to commit stalking through interstate travel. According to prosecutors, the three suspects coordinated with an unnamed fourth man described as a “close personal associate” of Spofford.
“Given that Spofford has been linked to criminal activity designed to punish NHPR personnel for exercising their First Amendment rights, NHPR Defendants submit that the time for giving him the benefit of the doubt has passed,” Schutz wrote.
Spofford’s lawsuit was dismissed this year by Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire, who ruled Spofford failed to show any evidence the broadcaster acted with malice in its reporting. St. Hilaire gave Spofford time to refile his lawsuit if he could come up with such evidence and further ordered that he can have access to NHPR’s reporting notes and recordings.
Schutz wants St. Hilaire to vacate the order for the discovery, cutting off Spofford’s access to the material. Short of that, Schutz wants Spofford to pay all the costs associated with compiling the information. That is at least $50,000, including attorney fees.
Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, argues his client is not charged with any wrongdoing in the vandalism, and the federal case does not state he coordinated the crimes. His only demerit is having a relationship with the unnamed and uncharged subject who allegedly coordinated the vandalism.
“The government, however, has neither charged Eric nor even alleged that he knew about or participated in the conspiracy,” Strauss wrote. “The allegations about Eric instead are limited to his relationship with an uncharged subject who, separately, the government alleges has suspiciously timed phone calls with two of the (criminal) defendants,” Strauss wrote.
Taking away Spofford’s access to the NHPR reporting materials would set a bad legal precedent in civil lawsuits, Strauss wrote. Civil litigants would be emboldened to pursue sanctions against opposing parties based on third-party allegations, Strauss wrote.
The identity of the unnamed subject and Spofford associate who allegedly coordinated the attacks remains protected from the public. However, NHJournal first reported in March that Spofford associate Eric Labarge, 44, was investigated as a suspect in at least one of the New Hampshire incidents.
Labarge is himself a recovering addict and the owner of the Starting Point Recovery centers.
Labarge has not been charged by any law enforcement agency in the vandalism cases. He has a criminal history that includes violence against women and attempted murder. He is also currently awaiting trial on charges of assaulting a man in Manchester. That assault took place days after the last vandalism attack in May, and the alleged victim was a man who had been a resident at a Starting Point center, according to court records.
Previously, Spofford has acknowledged his relationship with Labarge.
Labarge is now scheduled for trial in September in the Hillsborough Superior Court — North in Manchester on the assault charge.