N.H. judge sides with newspaper in criminal annulment case

by

By Howard Altschiller, executive editor, Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, N.H.

Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Diane M. Nicolosi has made an important ruling in favor of the public’s right to know and against the state’s poorly written criminal annulment law.

Her ruling is a victory for common sense and should be very helpful to a legislative committee forming to review and recommend improvements to the annulment law.

On April 22, Nicolosi dismissed a civil suit against former Rockingham County Sheriff Dan Linehan, Maj. Mark Peirce and former Portsmouth Herald reporter Karen Dandurant, filed by failed Rockingham County sheriff candidate David Lovejoy.

In the suit, Lovejoy claimed his privacy had been violated when Linehan and Peirce allegedly leaked, and when Dandurant and the Herald published an article, revealing Lovejoy had been convicted of domestic simple assault in 1989.

“The information disclosed was truthful, provided to a mainstream and reputable newspaper, and was presented in a way that was without vitriolic comment or exaggeration … The truthful dissemination of information that had once been in the public domain, in the context of a competition for public office, cannot be said to be so outrageous that it would transgress the bounds of decency,” Nicolosi wrote in her decision.

The judge further stated: “The truth is that plaintiff (Lovejoy) committed a domestic simple assault in 1989, and his conviction for this offense was subsequently annulled. The fact that a record of arrest and conviction may not now be open to the public does not make it disappear as though it never happened; nor does one’s character change on the day an annulment is granted.”

While the judge’s ruling is a great step forward, the Lovejoy case really is an exaggerated version of much larger questions the state needs to address regarding its annulment laws. Those questions include: What constitutes “disclosure and communication” of an annulled record? What types of crimes, if any, are reasonable to annul and which are far too important to the public’s right to know to ever legally hide? Should there be different standards for disclosing the annulled records of public and private figures? Nicolosi’s ruling makes clear that public figures shouldn’t be able to hide behind annulment laws, but what about business people who have committed fraud? Don’t people doing business with those convicted of fraud have a right to know they have a criminal past? That would seem relevant to us.

Finally, the whole issue becomes even more complicated in an age when public records, including records of conviction that are subsequently annulled, are forever accessible online.

These are just a few reasons why the Legislature needs to approve a committee to study the annulment law. At this point the committee has passed the House and Senate. We encourage the governor to sign the committee into law as soon as possible.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: