Judge Rules in Favor of Minimal Fines on Political Ad Conviction

Debra Paul, Publisher of the Londonderry Times and the Hudson Times, will be paying the fines related to being found guilty on five of six misdemeanor charges of not complying with RSA 664:16’s political advertising disclaimer requirements.
At the sentencing hearing, on Wednesday, Dec. 20, the state attorney general’s office sought to have Paul pay nearly $4,000 in fines and have her perform 100 hours of community service despite the ads in question being clearly identified as political ads.
Derry District Court Judge, Kerry Steckowych, agreed with Paul’s attorney, Tony Naro, and issued a minimal judgement of $100 per infraction.
The sentencing ended a year-and-a-half ordeal for Paul that started on Aug. 24, 2022, when Attorney General, John Formella, in the Election Law Unit announced that Paul had been arrested on six misdemeanor counts related to Penalties for Political Advertising for publishing political advertisements that did not comply with State election laws.
The state had been threatening Paul with up to one-year at the county house of corrections and a fine of up to $2,000 per infraction.
The state argued that Paul was warned twice, in 2019 and 2020, after the state had received complaints starting with Town Council Chairman, John Farrell, and the late Town Moderator, Tom Freda, as well as a local resident, Laura Morin.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Steckowych heard pleas from community members for leniency on the infractions.
Londonderry State Representative, Kristine Perez, and Attorney, Kevin Coyle, both spoke on her behalf. Both expressed all that she has done for the residents in the communities.
Dozens of letters supporting Paul were also presented to the judge during the hearing.
Senior Assistant Attorney Generals, Myles Matteson and Matthew Conley, did not feel that Paul felt any remorse for her actions, but told the judge they were not asking for jail time, but felt $3,800 in fines and 100-hours of community service would satisfy the state. They also requested that an additional $3,800 be paid if Paul was arrested within the next two years.
Paul’s Attorney, Tony Naro, argued during the trial in early December that the ads in question were clearly “political ads” and they were all marked as to who was paying for them and felt $100 per infraction was all that was needed.
Naro commented after the sentence, “While we were disappointed with the verdict, we are thankful that the court adopted our sentencing recommendation. Deb Paul has dedicated her life to the community. She has been, and will continue to be a tireless advocate for the First Amendment and the right of the people to be informed. With the court adopting our sentencing recommendation, Ms. Paul can finally move on from this and continue her work. With local news vanishing from our communities, I hope the residents of Londonderry, as well as local businesses, not only continue to support her paper, but increase that support in 2024.”
Paul is also happy to put the ordeal behind her, saying, “I was happy that the judge agreed with my attorney on the size of the fines and negating the community service. I believe the time my husband and I put into these papers each week speaks for itself.”
She added, “This is an issue I hope is cleared up at the state level. It has been my contention that the law targets newspapers unfairly, while leaving other forms of print advertising such as direct mail and signs unaffected.”
Note: Publisher, Debra Paul, was not involved in the writing of this article.

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