OSSIPEE — Saying she never admitted guilt or liability, a Jackson innkeeper who recently entered into a settlement with the state over allegations of violating the New Hampshire Civil Rights Act wants to back out of the pact because she says the state’s press release about it was misleading.
On Aug. 5, Priscilla Protasowicki, through her attorneys, filed a motion to vacate or stay the assented-to proposed final order in the case of State of New Hampshire v. Protasowicki that arose from an April 20, 2018, incident at the Covered Bridge Riverview Lodge on Route 16 in Jackson.
On that date, Protasowicki, who manages the inn for her parents, got into an altercation with a Massachusetts couple — Mohamed Ghallami and Chahrazade Mounaji – who were checking in with their 8-year old daughter.
Unhappy with the accommodations, the couple attempted to get a refund, but were offered a voucher for a free future stay instead. At one point, according to court documents, Protasowicki, in attempting to get the couple out of her business, pushed them.
On July 20, 2018,the Carroll County Grand Jury indicted Protasowicki on two counts of simple assault subject to “hate crime enhancement” because her actions were allegedly “substantially motivated” by her “hostility towards the victim’s religion, race, creed or national origin.”
Three days earlier, the attorney general, citing the same conduct, initiated action against Protasowicki pursuant to the NH Civil Rights Act, seeking a fine, prohibition against further violations of the act and restitution to the victims.
While Protasowicki this June pleaded guilty to reduced charges of disorderly conduct, the discussion between her and the attorney general about the alleged violation of the NH Civil Rights Act continued for a month more.
In a prepared statement on July 26, Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald said his office had reached “a resolution agreement with Priscilla Protasowicki for allegations of violations under the New Hampshire Civil Rights Act, RSA 354-B.”
He said the agreement resolved allegations “that Ms. Protasowicki used force in an attempt to remove two patrons from the Covered Bridge Riverview Lodge in Jackson, New Hampshire based upon her belief that they should not be there because of their religion and perceived national origin.”
Protasowicki was permanently enjoined from having further contact “with the two victims and their families,” and from engaging in or threatening physical force or violence, damage to property, or trespass on property against any person motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.” A permanent injunction meant that if she violated the agreement, it would constitute a Class A misdemeanor.
The AG’s press release said Protasowicki would also pay “a monetary penalty of $10,000, $7,500 of which will be suspended for one year on condition of compliance with the permanent injunction” and also pay restitution to the two victims.
But in her most recent filing, Protasowicki argued that she entered into the above settlement “in an attempt to buy peace and move on from all the negativity that this case has brought upon her, her family, and the family business, knowing that she denies the allegations made against her.”
Rather than simply issuing a press release that “encompassed the nature of the settlement reached,” the State, said Protasowicki, “issued a release that contained incomplete and/or misleading facts, which would cause any reasonable person to believe that the Defendant accepted or admitted to liability, which is not the case, and which contradicts the nature of the agreement reached by the parties.”
The state’s press release, Protasowicki said, was “tantamount to bad faith” and therefore the proposed order it referenced should be vacated or stayed.
During mediation, the parties discussed liability “at length” but after negotiations, they “agreed to not include any language denying liability or admitting liability,” said Protasowicki. “In fact, the Proposed Order was edited to remove the term ‘victims’ and any indication that payment to the State by the Defendant was a penalty, in order to ensure that the Proposed Order was neutral as to liability.”
As to so-called “restitution,” the word is misleading because it suggests liability, Protasowicki said, adding that “The Defendant agreed to make payment to Mr. Ghallami and Ms. Mounaji as a way to buy peace in this matter, not by way of restitution.”
The motion notes that in mediation, the parties had struck the word “victims” from the Proposed Order and used Ghallami and Mounaji’s names.
On July 31, defense counsel emailed the state to ask for a correction to the July 26 press release “so there is no confusion that his settlement was reached without admitting liability,” but had not received a response as of the Aug. 5 filing.
Anne Edwards, associate attorney general, said while the state has not been served with Protasowicki’s motion, it had reviewed a copy.
“We disagree with the assertions in the motion and will be filing an appropriate response,” said Edwards.