MANCHESTER, NH — A longtime Portsmouth police officer and a New Hampshire District Court judge are being honored at this year’s Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Awards event.
Former Officer John Connors is the 13th recipient of the annual First Amendment Award given by the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. He is being honored for his courage in publicly reporting his suspicions that a Portsmouth detective was exercising undue influence on an elderly millionaire who revised her will to include the detective.
Laconia Circuit Court Judge James Carroll is being recognized with a Quill & Ink Award for his strong support of the public’s right of Free Speech. He dismissed charges against two Lakes Region residents who were arrested while speaking at public hearings.
“The Loeb School is pleased to recognize former Officer Connors for speaking out when he suspected wrongdoing, only to be disciplined himself,” said David Tirrell-Wysocki, executive director of the non-profit school.
“Judge Carroll’s strongly-worded rulings in two First Amendment cases made it clear that public officials cannot silence free speech, even if they don’t like the message or the messenger,” he said.
The awards will be presented at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord on Nov. 12.
The evening event will feature an address by Chris Matthews, of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” who joins a notable group of national figures who have donated their appearances on behalf of the school.
The awards were established to honor New Hampshire organizations or
residents who protect or exemplify the liberties granted in the First Amendment.
In the Connors case, Portsmouth police ordered Connors not to speak about the issue and filed several department charges against him after he went to the media about his long-held suspicions that then-Sgt. Aaron Goodwin was unduly influencing Connors’ wealthy, elderly neighbor. This summer, after a probate court challenge and internal investigation, Goodwin was fired, the probate court vacated the revised will that had awarded him more than $2 million, and the investigation found there was no serious investigation of Connors’ allegations.
Connors resigned in September. The city now is exploring a whistle-blower protection policy.
Judge Carroll presided at the cases of Jeffrey Clay of Alton and William Baer of Gilford. Both were arrested while speaking at public meetings – Clay at a Selectmen’s meeting and Baer at a School Board meeting. The judge threw out both cases, ruling in June that Clay’s arrest was “pure censorship.”
Judge Carroll also quoted the state Constitution in his ruling: “Free Speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.”
Nackey Loeb, the late president and publisher of the Union Leader Corp, founded the school in 1999 to promote understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and to foster interest, integrity and excellence in journalism and other forms of communication.
More than 7,000 people have participated in the school’s media-related classes, workshops and other events.
The First Amendment Award judges were retired NH Supreme Court Justice Richard Galway; retired Foster’s Daily Democrat Executive Editor Rod Doherty; attorney Gregory Sullivan; past First Amendment Award recipients John Howe, former executive editor of The Citizen of Laconia; and Mary DeWinkeleer, student media adviser at Londonderry High School.
Past recipients of the award include former state Attorney General Philip McLaughlin, former Keene Sentinel Editor Thomas Kearney, state Rep. Daniel Hughes, Dover City Councilor David Scott, First Amendment attorney William Chapman, ConVal School Board member Gail Pierson Cromwell, The Portsmouth Herald, David Lang and the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, The Telegraph of Nashua and slain journalist James Foley.
Led by presenting sponsor People’s United Bank, the growing list of 2015 First Amendment Event sponsors and supporters includes: EverSource; Amoskeag Beverages; Eastern Bank; AutoFair; U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management; Holloway Automotive Group; TD Charitable Foundation; AT&T; The Common Man; Catholic Medical Center; Fallon Community HealthPlan; Kinder Morgan; Joseph and Signe McQuaid; Silvertech; Kasich for America; Marco Rubio for President; Donald J. Trump for President; Live Free or Die Alliance; BAE Systems; Lincoln Financial and McLane Middleton.
Other sponsors include: Café Services; Daniel and Carol Hughes; Elliot Health System; Fidelity Investments; Howe, Riley & Howe, PLLC; IPG Benefits; Kelly PAC; Sean and Kirsten Mahoney; Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University; St. Mary’s Bank; AARP; Anagnost Investments; BIA; Cross Insurance; Hon. Stephen Merrill; NH College and University Council; Union Leader Corp.
Media partners are the New Hampshire Union Leader, WMUR-TV and WGIR radio.
Funds raised at the event enable the Loeb School to continue offering free classes and low-cost workshops on topics including the First Amendment, journalism, social media, public relations, public speaking and photography.