NH top court says Concord Monitor reporter must testify at activist's trial if called
September 21. 2017 2:19PM
A newspaper reporter for the Concord Monitor will have to testify if called in the criminal trial of a political activist accused of campaign dirty tricks, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled.
Thursday’s opinion overturns a pretrial ruling in the case of Carl Gibson, a one-time campaign volunteer for a Democrat running in a four-town House district in eastern Merrimack County.
A liberal activist, Gibson had been booted from Democrat Maureen Mann’s campaign, according to reporting cited by the Supreme Court in its ruling, nonetheless he issued a fake news press release that claimed the Republican, Yvonne Dean-Bailey, was exiting the race.
That was not the case. Monitor reporter Nicholas Reid wrote about the hoax and soon Gibson was facing several felonies alleging voter suppression and violation of election laws.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, at the time headed by Joseph Foster, subpoenaed Reid to testify in the Gibson trial. The reporter had interviewed Gibson, who had admitted sending out the hoax as a prank in the heat of the moment.
Historically, journalists try to avoid appearing as witnesses at trials and Reid sought to block the subpoena, arguing it violated his rights under the state and federal constitutions.
In its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said such constitutional protections — which usually apply when it comes to the identity of confidential sources or the source of off-the-record information — are not relevant in the Gibson case.
Gibson, the court said, did not provide Reid with any confidential information and the reporter acknowledged publishing everything Reid told him.
Reid argued it would be difficult for him to do his job if he had to testify in criminal cases that he reported on as he could be perceived as an agent of the prosecution.
“We are not persuaded ... that the limited information sought by the state under the specific facts of this case presents any potential impairment of the newsgathering process,” reads the opinion, written by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis.
The ruling overturns a pretrial decision of Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara.
Dean-Bailey won the 2015 special election by 126 votes and was re-elected last year.