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Judge dismisses defamation suit against NHPR filed by New Hampshire drug recovery leader

Photo of the exterior of the Rockingham County Courthouse
Todd Bookman/NHPR News

A superior court judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Eric Spofford against New Hampshire Public Radio, ruling that the lawsuit lacked clear evidence that the public broadcaster relied on false statements as alleged in the civil suit.

Spofford, who founded and ran New Hampshire’s largest network of substance misuse recovery facilities, filed a 396-page lawsuit last September after NHPR published an investigation detailing allegations of sexual misconduct involving two former employees and a former client.

Lauren Chooljian, a senior reporter for NHPR, as well as another reporter and the station’s news director were alleged to have inaccurately implied Spofford was facing criminal charges for his alleged misconduct, and relied on anonymous sources to unfairly tarnish Spofford’s reputation.

In its motion to dismiss the case, NHPR defended its reporting, noting that it had conducted nearly 50 interviews involving both on the record and anonymous sources, and had afforded Spofford ample space in the article to refute the allegations.

In an opinion released Monday, Rockingham Superior Court Judge Dan St. Hilaire rejected Spofford’s claims about the accuracy of the story, writing that he was relying on “circular reasoning.”

St. Hilaire wrote that nothing presented by Spofford in the lawsuit was “fatal to the credibility of NHPR’s sources” and therefore failed to rise to the level of actual malice, the legal standard used for proving a media outlet defamed a public figure.

St. Hilaire also dismissed related cases filed by Spofford against three individuals who were identified as sources in the article. The ACLU of New Hampshire, along with two media outlets, had submitted amicus briefs in the case, arguing that allowing the case to move to trial could have a chilling effect on free speech.

Spofford has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

Spofford rose to prominence as the founder of Granite Recovery Centers, a chain of facilities that treated people with substance misuse disorders. He gained a reputation as a go-to voice on recovery issues in New Hampshire, using his own personal story of addiction to vouch for his models for recovery. Spofford sold the company in 2021 to a Texas-based group, and then relocated to Florida.

The original article, which was published online and broadcast as part of a two-part series, alleged that Spofford had engaged in a pattern of sexual misconduct and threats of retaliation with two former female employees and a female client of Granite Recovery Centers.

Spofford has repeatedly denied any allegations of sexual misconduct.

After the initial report was published, Chooljian’s residence in Massachusetts, along with a previous residence in Hampstead, New Hampshire and the home of another NHPR employee in Concord, were vandalized.

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan announced during the investigation that her office would look into NHPR’s reporting as a possible factor in the attack. Ryan’s office said Tuesday that the investigation remains ongoing. Spofford has denied any involvement in the vandalism.

Editor’s note: In keeping with NHPR’s practice around reporting on internal matters, no other NHPR staff or leadership reviewed this story prior to publication. The story was edited by Cori Princell of the New England News Collaborative.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.
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