Journalists Win $3.75 Million Settlement Against Sheriff Joe Arpaio For False ArrestsSubmitted by Jawa86 on Tue, 12/24/2013 - 12:55
Notorious Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is back in the news again, this time as the grand loser of a $3.75 million settlement to New Times co-founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin for their false arrests in 2007. The story between New Times and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, however, begins in 2004.
Writing for New Times at the time, reporter John Dougherty started digging into Arpaio’s numerous commercial real estate transactions. He wondered how a county sheriff carried enough revenue to invest in so much property and why all of the transactions were hidden from the public.
Included in one of Dougherty’s articles on the sheriff was Arpaio’s home address — his one piece of property publicly listed, easily found on a number of government websites. The question then loomed:
Why would Arpaio list his private home, potentially risking his family’s safety, yet keep his commercial properties hidden?
Eventually Andrew Thomas took office as Maricopa County Attorney. At that time, some ten months after Arpaio’s home address had been published in a New Times article by John Dougherty, Arpaio requested charges be brought against the publication for making public information public, basing it on an old state law that bars publishing such information if a “timely threat” to a public servant is imminent.
Again, why then would Arpaio publically list his home address and not his commercial property if he fears a “timely threat”?
To sour the sheriff’s cream a bit more, a Maricopa County Attorney’s Office panel declined to prosecute New Times. In the ten months it took for Arpaio to bring charges against Lacey and Larkin, no such “timely threat” occurred, rendering Arpaio’s argument invalid from the start. The Pinal County Attorney’s Office also later declined to prosecute the publication, lacking evidence and butting up against serious First Amendment issues.
Fast forward two and a half years later and Arpaio’s still carrying that grudge, still working that revenge plot like a convict scheming his next big score once released from the pen. Arpaio conspires with County Attorney Andrew Thomas to appoint Phoenix attorney Dennis Wilenchick as a “special prosecutor” for the sole purpose of starting a New Times witch hunt.
Wilenchick goes after New Times with fervor, allegedly issuing a grand jury’s subpoenas for notes, records, sources of the publication’s reporters and editors for every story relating to Arpaio over a vast stretch of time, including, even, perhaps most disturbingly, the IP addresses for all those having read any of the Arpaio stories. That’s right, folks! Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio — that crazy anti-immigrant power-monger out west — may have even spied on you, yourself!
Shortly thereafter, Superior Court Judge Anna Baca, presiding over county grand juries then, scolded Wilenchick for attempting to arrange a secret meeting with her regarding the settlement. Baca called Wilenchick’s approach, “absolutely inappropriate”. Fed up with the gross abuse and harassment by Sheriff Arpaio, Lacey and Larkin released a new article through New Times titled, “Grand Jury Targets New Times And Its Readers” (now titled, “Breathtaking Abuse Of The Constitution“).
That same night as the article’s release brought Arpaio’s deputies to the cofounders’ doors, arresting them in the middle of the night in front of their families for allegedly violating grand jury secrecy — a misdemeanor requiring far less dramatic police action than Arpaio ordered. To frost the cake, that “grand jury” supposedly violated turned out to have never even convened.
The backlash that quickly rose the following day, once the public and media caught wind of it, resulted in County Attorney Thomas firing Wilenchick and announcing that the investigation had been closed. Superior Court Judge Baca then stepped back in to affirm that the grand jury subpoenas were invalid due to Wilenchick issuing them himself without notifying or gaining approval from an actual grand jury, or from the court, itself.
Arpaio, of course, along with his loyal sidekick Wilenchick, attempted to seek immunity from prosecution for their gross misconduct, but as of June 9, 2011, they were unsuccessful for obvious reasons. County Attorney Thomas, however, escaped liability due to protections offered by his position when the violations occurred. How fortunate for him, eh? He is, however, currently disbarred.
Co-founder of New Times Michael Lacey is happy with the settlement but still, frankly, stunned by all of it.
It was outrageous! Where in America do you arrest journalists for what they write?
Lacey and Larkin made the following statements in a longer press release regarding the conclusion of the settlement:
Unlike most of Arpaio’s victims, we had the financial wherewithal to defend ourselves in court, and we were able to speak through the newspaper. But the vulnerable and impoverished victims of Arpaio’s ongoing abusive practices have neither the money nor the voice to fight back. We intend to use proceeds from today’s settlement to help those who fight the good fight against government actors who attack the most vulnerable among us. We further intend to help an organization that seeks to preserve and protect free speech on the Internet.
Our decision to settle this case rather than demand our day in court is largely motivated by the knowledge that nothing that can come from a trial will speak as clearly and with as much binding legal force as the Ninth Circuit’s landmark decision in Lacey v. Arpaio.
In a scathing opinion, the appeals court scolded Arpaio and Wilenchik for retaliating against a free press, for grand jury abuse, for false arrest, and for a variety of other conduct. The Court served notice that thuggish behavior by police and prosecutors against journalists strikes at the heart of the Constitution…
As nearly as we can tell, the last American journalist arrested for something he’d written was John Peter Zenger, and that was prior to the American Revolution.
Before his reign of terror subsided, the Sheriff would become notorious nationally for rounding up immigrants as well as for attacks upon the judiciary.
County officials could have curtailed the abuses of the Sheriff years ago… Instead, they looked the other way until Arpaio’s excesses moved from Mexicans to magistrates. With these cash grants, we choose to stand with those who resist.
Toward this end, we will make grants from settlement funds to the following organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which has successfully litigated against the racial profiling abuses of Sheriff Arpaio’s roundup of Hispanic immigrants; the Florence Project, which defends immigrants detained in confinement; and the grassroots, migrant rights group Puente. We will also be contributing to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has taken the lead nationally in fighting in the courts against government intrusion on Internet speech and privacy rights.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Friday to approve of the settlement in Lacey and Larkin’s favor. Click here to read Lacey and Larkin’s full statement regarding the settlement.