U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

NHPR ordered to turn over reporter interviews, notes

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2023

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue

A portion of the May 30, 2023, order requiring New Hampshire Public Radio to turn over reporter Lauren Chooljian’s transcripts and notes in connection with a defamation suit against the news outlet.

May 30, 2023

New Hampshire Public Radio Senior Reporter and Producer Lauren Chooljian was ordered on May 30, 2023, to turn over transcripts and notes in connection with a defamation lawsuit against the radio news service.

The underlying suit was filed in September 2022 by Eric Spofford, the subject of a March investigation into his alleged pattern of sexual misconduct and retaliation while CEO of a network of addiction rehabilitation centers. Chooljian was named as a defendant, along with Senior Reporter and Producer Jason Moon and News Director Dan Barrick.

The lawsuit was dismissed on April 18, NHPR reported. In his decision, Rockingham Superior Court Justice Daniel St. Hilaire wrote that Spofford had failed to provide evidence of actual malice, the legal burden that public figures must meet in order to pursue libel claims.

Then, on April 26, Spofford, seeking evidence of alleged malice ahead of refiling his complaint, asked the court to order Chooljian to turn over full recordings and notes from six interviews, including those she conducted with two anonymous sources, as well as notes about and communications with two other sources.

Attorneys for NHPR filed an opposition to the request on May 8, arguing that it would be an “extraordinary inversion of the usual order of operations.”

“NHPR’s story was based on nearly 50 sources — 4 who are named, and 2 more whom Spofford acknowledges are real,” the NHPR filing said. “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.”

But St. Hilaire largely granted the discovery request on May 30, giving NHPR 40 days to provide the documents and transcripts of the interviews to the court. St. Hilaire ruled, however, that he would review the materials in private first in order to determine whether Chooljian or NHPR “displayed a reckless disregard for the truth by reporting a story they knew or suspected was false.” He also noted that the radio service would have the opportunity to appeal the release of any materials in the event that he finds they are subject to disclosure.

Chooljian did not respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported in June that shortly after Choolijan’s initial investigation was published, her home in Massachusetts was vandalized, as was her parents’ home and Barrick’s. Investigations into the attacks are ongoing, and Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan has said her office is looking into whether the attacks were connected to NHPR’s reporting, according to NHPR. Spofford has denied any involvement.

Editor’s Note: Read more about the vandalism and updates on the investigation in the Tracker.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].