Joe Arpaio Loses: New Times Co-Founders Win $3.75 Million Settlement for 2007 False Arrests
|New Times founders Mike Lacey (left) and Jim Larkin.|
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors this afternoon voted unanimously to approve a $3.75 million settlement for New Times' co-founders, whose false arrests in 2007 were orchestrated by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and jailed on misdemeanor charges alleging that they violated the secrecy of a grand jury -- which turned out never to have been convened.
-Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution
-Who's Sorry Now?
Lacey was pleased with the settlement but expressed disbelief that the arrests ever occurred six years ago: "It was outrageous! Where in America do you arrest journalists for what they write?"
The saga began in 2004, when then-New Times reporter John Dougherty dug into Arpaio's commercial real estate transactions, questioning how a county sheriff could amass so much cash to invest in property and why records of the transactions were hidden from public view.
As part of Dougherty's articles, Arpaio's home address was published, as it was easily available online, including on government websites. The point was that Arpaio had hidden records of his commercial property but hadn't done so for his actual home.
After Andrew Thomas took office as Maricopa County Attorney, Arpaio requested charges against New Times for revealing his home address, based on an arcane state statute that bars publishing such information on the Internet if there's a "timely threat" to an officer of the law.
Because Arpaio waited 10 months to call for an investigation, a County Attorney's Office panel declined to prosecute, since no threat had presented itself. The Pinal County Attorney's Office later also declined to prosecute, citing lack of evidence and First Amendment implications.
So 2 1/2 years after New Times published the sheriff's address, Arpaio and Thomas collaborated to appoint Phoenix attorney Dennis Wilenchik as a "special prosecutor" to go after the paper.
He issued grand jury subpoenas for the notes, records, and sources of the paper's reporters and editors for all Arpaio-related stories over a broad period of time, as well as for the IP addresses of New Times' readers of such stories.
Later, Superior Court Judge Anna Baca, who presided over county grand juries at the time, chided Wilenchik for trying to arrange a secret meeting with her about the case.
Faced with all of this, Lacey and Larkin wrote a cover story detailing what they called a "breathtaking abuse of the constitution."
Arpaio's deputies arrested them the night the story was published on charges of violating grand jury secrecy - alleged misdemeanor violations that normally don't spark nighttime arrests at suspects' homes.
The next day, after widespread public outrage, Thomas announced that Wilenchik was dismissed as special prosecutor and that the investigation was over. Judge Baca later declared that Wilenchik's grand jury subpoenas were invalid, since he'd issued them without notice or approval from a grand jury or from the court.
Arpaio and Wilenchik eventually sought immunity from Lacey and Larkin's lawsuit, but that didn't happen, leading to today's settlement. Thomas escaped potential liability because of protection his county attorney post afforded him when the episode occurred.
"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," Lacey and Larkin say in a statement. "But the vulnerable and impoverished victims of Arpaio's ongoing abusive practices have neither the money nor the voice to fight back."
The co-founders announced that they will use the settlement proceeds to "help those who fight the good fight against government actors who attack the most vulnerable among us." Included in this list of recipient organizations are the Arizona ACLU, the Florence Project, and Puente. A contribution also will be made to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to help protect Internet free speech.
Read Lacey and Larkin's press release on the next page: