Judge tosses defamation lawsuit filed by Gatsas over Manchester West High rapeBy PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
April 12. 2018 8:02PM
MANCHESTER — A Hillsborough County Superior Court judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by former Manchester mayor Ted Gatsas against a former city alderman and Queen City resident who accused him of covering up a 2015 rape at Manchester High School West.
In her decision, dated April 4, Judge Gillian Abramson writes that it can be “readily inferred” that Gatsas “was aware of certain information that was not shared with the Board of School Committee.”
“It can also be inferred that the plaintiff (Gatsas) was attempting to downplay his knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the rape,” writes Abramson. “Finally, given that the rape and its subsequent public disclosure both occurred during election years, it can be inferred that whatever actions plaintiff did take were made with political considerations in mind.”
Gatsas sued former alderman William Cashin and West Side resident Jon Hopwood last June after they charged in a letter to the city’s aldermen that Gatsas purposely failed to inform the aldermen and school committee members of the rape because it occurred shortly before the 2015 mayoral election, in which Gatsas was re-elected by 64 votes after a recount.
Gatsas sued Cashin and Hopwood over a June 2017 letter asking aldermen to bring Gatsas before the city Conduct Board for issues pertaining to a 2015 rape of a 14-year-old student in a secluded hallway at West. The rape took place on Sept. 30, 2015, in the closing weeks of a hard-fought re-election campaign against challenger — and now current mayor — Joyce Craig.
It wasn’t until June 2017 that county prosecutors announced Bryan Wilson, 19, had been sentenced to 10 to 20 years in state prison for the rape.
The letter to aldermen was written by Hopwood and signed by Cashin.
At the time of the rape, school board members, including Gatsas, were notified of the attack in an email.
David Ryan, a former assistant school superintendent in Manchester, said last June that Gatsas’ first reaction to the news was to ask the race of the perpetrator.
“His first question was ‘What color was the boy?’” Ryan told a Union Leader reporter. “I was stunned. I don’t believe I responded, or I responded with ‘I’m not sure.’”
Gatsas disputed Ryan’s retelling of the conversation, telling a Union Leader reporter he asked Ryan if there was a racial component to the attack, such as different races between the victim and the perpetrator.
Gatsas said a racially charged incident was going on at Manchester High School Central at the time, and he was worried about the potential for racial conflict.
“I merely asked the question,” Gatsas said last summer.
Cashin and Hopwood’s letter called upon aldermen to refer Gatsas to the city’s Conduct Board. In their letter, the pair accused Gatsas of violating the city charter on four counts, and asked that if the conduct board found Gatsas guilty of the alleged charter violations the matter be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit for further investigation.
The aldermen voted 8-2 to set aside the complaint.
Gatsas’ lawsuit charged Cashin and Hopwood with defaming him with their accusation the former mayor engineered a cover-up of the West High rape. The suit accused Cashin and Hopwood of committing “actual malice” by lodging accusations against Gatsas even though they knew them to be false.
“I will fight for my integrity and that is what I intend to do,” Gatsas told a Union Leader reporter last June. “I think that it is past time that people can just walk around and say whatever they want about public officials even though they are untrue.”
In her decision, Judge Abramson refers to two articles published in the Union Leader last year about the rape, and Cashin and Hopwood’s letter to aldermen.
“While at no point does either article suggest any malfeasance on plaintiff’s (Gatsas) part or speculate on his motives, neither forecloses the possibility of an intentional failure to keep the committee informed,” writes Abramson. “Therefore, under the circumstances of the case, the court finds plaintiff has failed to allege facts indicating defendants harbored serious doubts about the truth of their allegations.”
Judge Abramson's decision can be viewed below:
Reached Thursday, Gatsas — represented by attorney Richard Lehmann — offered little comment on the decision.
“We are reviewing the decision and considering our options regarding an appeal,” said Gatsas. He said he and his lawyer would likely reach a decision sometime next week.
Gatsas is currently a candidate for the District 4 Executive Council seat.
Cashin, an alderman in Ward 10 from 1974 to 2002, said Thursday he is pleased with the outcome.
“My wife and I are relieved with the judge’s decision,” said Cashin. “As for anything further, I will let the decision speak for itself.”