N.H. Supreme Court rules ‘Monitor’ reporter could be forced to testify

  • 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 Arnesen in Concord on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 31, 2015. ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Thursday, September 21, 2017

A former Monitor reporter could be forced to testify against a Concord man accused of sending a hoax email that said a candidate was dropping out of a special election, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Carl Gibson, a former Democratic campaign operative, is charged with trying to suppress voter turnout, a felony, by sending an email days before the special election for state representative in May 2015, supposedly from Republican Yvonne Dean-Bailey, saying she was dropping out of the race. Dean-Bailey ultimately went on to win the election five days after the email was sent.

In an interview, Gibson told the Monitor he considered the email a “prank” and he “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.”

The state Attorney General’s Office took it seriously, however, and issued a warrant for Gibson’s arrest. Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte subpoenaed 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.

The state Supreme Court noted it has applied the newsgathering privilege to confidential sources in both a criminal and a civil case, but declined to do so in this case.

“The narrow question before us is whether, on the facts of this case, the newsgathering privilege under the State Constitution extends to protect a news reporter from testifying in a criminal proceeding about non-confidential information that he gathered in the course of investigating a news story and subsequently published in a newspaper,” the justices wrote in their opinion posted Thursday. “We hold that it does not.”

The court based its opinion only on state law, and not on the U.S. Constitution. The justices asked the lower court to consider whether there is a privilege under the U.S. Constitution.

The criminal case is being heard by Merrimack Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara.

In addition to the voter suppression charge, Gibson is also facing a charge of distributing a false document, a misdemeanor.

Gibson has argued the email was satire and was protected free speech, not an attempt at voter suppression.

Dean-Bailey is now serving her second legislative term representing District 32, which includes the towns of Candia, Deerfield, Northwood and Nottingham.

Reid left the Monitor last month to further his education and improve his computer programming skills.