The saga of Deb Paul, the New Hampshire newspaper publisher who was threatened with six years in prison for running improperly labeled political ads, has finally come to an end, reports Damien Fisher of InDepthNH. On Wednesday, Derry District Court Judge Kerry Steckowych fined Paul $620, which adds up to $124 for each of the five counts the judge had convicted her of on Dec. 7. Paul had originally been charged with six counts, which carry a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $2,000 fine for each violation.

Paul publishes the Londonderry Times and, at the time that the offenses took place, was also the publisher of the Nutfield News and the Tri-Town Times, which have since folded. Under New Hampshire law, it is a crime to publish political advertising without labeling it as such. The First Amendment allows for some regulation of paid political ads, but the law making such minor violations a crime rather than a civil offense strikes me as excessive, as does the zeal of the state attorney general, John Formella, who let the possibility of prison time hang over Paul’s head for nearly a year and a half.

It has to be said that Paul seems like a piece of work. Back in August 2022, shortly after the charges were filed, I published the results of some digging by friend of Media Nation Aaron Read, who discovered that Paul was not just the owner of the Londonderry Times — she was also a member of the town council. In February 2021, her fellow councilors complained about an editorial she published, saying she had engaged in “bullying” for writing, “Are you frustrated that nobody at town hall is listening to you? Do you feel that your town or school officials have an excuse for everything or justify decisions you don’t agree with?” In an interview with The Eagle-Tribune, Paul denied that was aimed specifically at her colleagues. Paul is apparently no longer a member of the council.

According to InDepthNH, the prosecution argued that draconian action was necessary because Paul was a serial offender who had failed to comply with the law despite earlier warnings. Paul, through her lawyer, said her violations were inadvertent. She also declined to speak with InDepthNH.

Judge Steckowych deserves credit for meting out a punishment that is more or less in line with a civil offense. And it’s time for the state legislature to intervene and reform the law so that other publishers are no longer in danger of being locked up for what amounts to a minor campaign finance violation.

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