School Board Member Says Newspaper Defamed Him

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‘     BRENTWOOD, N.H. (CN) – A New Hampshire newspaper shamed a school board member with untrue claims that he brought a gun to a school, the man claims in court.
     Daniel Popovici-Muller, of Windham, says the accusations appeared in the “Thumbs Up? Thumbs Down?” column of the Pelham-Windham News, a free paper delivered biweekly to every home and business in his town and in Pelham.
     As quoted in the complaint filed last week in Rockingham County Superior Court, the June 5, 2015, edition stated: “Thumbs down, way down, to School Board member Daniel Popovici-Mueller [sic] for bringing a handgun to school. It isn”t just against board policy – it is against Federal law to have a gun on school grounds! What were you thinking?” (Emphasis in original.)
     Denying that he ever brought a handgun to a school, Popovici-Muller says that the newspaper failed to contact him, Windham schools or any potential witnesses to verify or corroborate the allegation.
     Whoever submitted the statement did so anonymously to conceal his identity, and the newspaper knew this, “given the Internet domain name, email exchange name, and origin of John Doe”s anonymous email account,” the Sept. 14 complaint states.
     Popovici-Muller says editor-in-chief Leonard Lathrop even admitted fault in the next edition of the newspaper, published on June 19.
     “My goal has been to let people say what they want and for readers to know they are Thumbs, not edited, not fact checked,” Lathrop wrote, according to the complaint (emphasis added in complaint). “But that seems not to work.”
     Popovici-Muller says the editor went on to say that “Thumbs about Windham hit an all-time low of being mean, wrong and stupid.”
     The remarks are apparently too little, too late, for Popovici-Muller, who notes that the newspaper already maintained an “express policy of refusing to publish ”inappropriate” submissions.”
     Indeed, Lathrop noted that the newspaper spiked 25 of 35 submissions for the June 19 edition “because they were ”wrong,” unverifiable, or offensive,” according to the complaint.
     Popovici-Muller says that the newspaper “acted with negligence and actual malice” in choosing to publish the “serious allegations of criminal conduct” it received about him.
     Here the remarks came “from an anonymous, obviously unreliable source,” and the newspaper has chosen “not to publish false, unverifiable, or offensive statements on other occasions,” the complaint states.
     Seeking damages for defamation and invasion of privacy, Popovici-Muller names as defendants the Pelham-Windham News; its parent company, Area News Group; Lathrop; and the unknown person who anonymously submitted the statement about him.
     Popovici-Muller is represented by Dustin Lee and S. Amy Spencer with Shaheen Gordon in Concord.
     Neither the attorneys nor Lathrop have responded to requests for comment.