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Manchester mayor seeks to keep defamation suit alive

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 16. 2017 10:22PM

MANCHESTER — Mayor Ted Gatsas went to court Monday to keep alive his defamation suit against two Manchester residents — one of them former alderman Bill Cashin, who questioned whether Gatsas covered up a 2015 rape at Manchester High School West.

Lawyers for both sides made detailed legal arguments to Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson, who will have to determine whether to dismiss Gatsas’ lawsuit or let it go to trial.

Gatsas has sued over a June letter that asks Manchester aldermen to bring Gatsas before the city Conduct Board for issues pertaining to the rape. The rape took place in the fall of 2015, in the closing weeks of a hard-fought re-election campaign. It wasn’t until this June that county prosecutors announced that a teenager had been sentenced to 10 to 20 years in state prison for the rape.

The letter, which Cashin signed, was written by West Side resident Jon Hopwood.

In an interview, Gatsas lawyer Richard Lehmann said elected officials are used to harsh criticism, but the Cashin letter crossed the line because it said the possible cover-up, if a charter violation, was a misdemeanor.

“Was it (the letter) a political stunt? You could characterize it as that if you want to, but it’s one that went too far,” Lehmann said. Gatsas is paying for Lehmann’s services with his own money.

Meanwhile, Hopwood stressed that the letter was a petition to hold a Conduct Board hearing. Cashin wrote that he believed that Gatsas violated the city charter by engineering a cover-up, interfering with local boards and taking actions that would improve his re-election chances.

“We petitioned to the Conduct Board to get to the truth,” Hopwood said. Aldermen refused to bring the matter to the Conduct Board, and it died.

Hopwood said he’s a disabled veteran and can’t afford his lawyer. He wouldn’t say who is paying the bill.

This is the third defamation case to be heard in a New Hampshire courtroom in recent weeks.

Late last month, a Concord jury awarded Dick Anagnost and Andy Crews millions in a defamation case against Michael Gill and Mortgage Specialists. And a landscaper has sued Bedford town councilor Kelleigh Murphy over comments she made on social media about a work estimate at her home.

In court on Monday, lawyers for Cashin and Hopwood said Gatsas has never demonstrated the statements were false, which is required to prove defamation.

Nor has Gatsas proved that Cashin and Hopwood doubted the statements or knew they were false, which is required to prove defamation against a public figure.

Lehmann said that if the case moves forward, he will be able to use discovery — the traditional exchange of information that occurs before a lawsuit goes to trial — to prove that Cashin and Hopwood knew the statements were false.

Abramson gave the two sides 10 days to submit written arguments before she decides.

Courts Manchester Local and County Government

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