Author of hoax email about N.H. special election reaches plea deal

  • Visitors, including Carl Gibson of Concord (in red) listen to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speak during a house party at the home of Arne Areneson in Concord on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 31, 2015. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Wednesday, June 06, 2018

A Concord-based liberal activist who admitted to sending a hoax email days before a 2015 special election is scheduled to face a judge Friday morning in Merrimack County Superior Court for a plea and sentencing hearing.

The hearing could put an end to a lengthy court battle that started when Carl Gibson was accused of sending a phony concession statement from then-Republican state representative candidate Yvonne Dean-Bailey to news outlets in May 2015.

It also stands to end the attorney general’s office’s effort to compel a former newspaper reporter to testify against Gibson – an argument that went to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Attorneys received notice of the hearing Tuesday. However, the terms of the plea agreement have not been disclosed.

Gibson faces two felonies and one misdemeanor in connection with an email purported to be from Dean-Bailey, then 19, who was running to fill a vacant seat in Rockingham County’s 32nd House District covering Candia, Deerfield, Northwood and Nottingham. The statement, traced back to Gibson, said she was dropping out of the race days ahead of the election to focus on her college studies.

Dean-Bailey ultimately went on to beat Democratic challenger Maureen Mann with 52 percent of the vote. The election was held five days after the email was sent.

Gibson’s identity was quickly uncovered after his name was found to be embedded in the electronic data of an attachment to the email.

In an interview, Gibson told the Monitor he considered the email a “prank” and that he’d “probably had one too many beers” before he sent it.

“I thought it was funny,” he said at the time. “I didn’t really think it would be taken seriously.”

However, the email caught the attention of the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, which opened an investigation into the matter and ultimately issued a warrant for Gibson’s arrest.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte subpoenaed former Monitor reporter Nick Reid to testify against Gibson at the criminal trial to describe his reporting process and interview with Gibson. The Monitor, through attorney Bill Chapman, objected and argued the newsgathering privilege in the state and U.S. constitutions protects Reid from being forced to testify.

Initially, the lower court ruled in the newspaper’s favor and quashed the subpoena. However, the attorney general’s office appealed the decision, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order.

And until this week prosecutors were still compelling Reid’s attendance at Gibson’s trial, which was scheduled to begin on July 10 with jury selection. That trial will be canceled if the case resolves Friday.

Gibson pleaded not guilty to the charges, arguing the email was protected free speech. He said he wasn’t trying to suppress voter turnout, rather he was offering political satire, which is protected by the First Amendment.

Dean-Bailey is no longer a member of the Legislature.

Associate Attorney General James Vara, who is prosecuting the case, and Gibson’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)