Local New Hampshire newspaper publisher found guilty of political advertisement omissions

FILE - Londonderry Times newspaper editions rest on a table at the Leach Library, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Londonderry, N.H. A judge has found the New Hampshire publisher of a weekly newspaper guilty of five misdemeanor charges that she ran advertisements for local races without properly marking them as political advertising. The judge acquitted Debra Paul, publisher of The Londonderry Times, of a sixth misdemeanor charge on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, following a bench trial in November. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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By KATHY McCORMACK

Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A judge has found the New Hampshire publisher of a weekly community newspaper guilty of five misdemeanor charges that she ran advertisements for local races without properly marking them as political advertising.

The judge acquitted Debra Paul, publisher of the Londonderry Times, of a sixth misdemeanor charge on Thursday following a bench trial in November. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The New Hampshire attorney general’s office charged Paul last year, saying she failed to identify the ads with “appropriate language” indicating that they were ads and saying who paid for them as required by state law.

The office said it had warned her in 2019 and 2021. Last year, it received more complaints and reviewed the February and March issues of the paper. Two political ads leading up to a local election in March did not contain the “paid for” language and a third had no “political advertisement” designation, according to a police affidavit.

Shortly after her arrest, the 64-year-old put out a statement saying “This is clearly a case of a small business needing to defend itself against overreaching government.”

Her lawyer, Tony Naro, said at her trial that Paul never meant to break the law and tried to follow the attorney general’s office instructions.

Naro said in an email Friday that while disappointed with the convictions, “we are considering all legal options moving forward” after Paul is sentenced.

“What should not be lost in this story is that my client is a small business owner, who provides an important service to the community,” Naro said. “With the rapid disappearance of small independent newspapers, I hope that the community will continue to support the Londonderry Times.”

Paul also was a member of the Londonderry Town Council, but didn’t seek re-election in March. She responded to a request for comment Friday by providing a different judge’s recent order over a Right-to-Know lawsuit she filed against the town to make public a complaint filed against her by the town manager in February. The judge found in her favor and called the complaint frivolous. The complaint and lawsuit are connected to the political ads case, she said.