Village Voice Media Executives Sue Phoenix Sheriff Over Arrest

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By: E&P Staff

Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin are suing Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other Maricopa County, Ariz., authorities over their arrest last October for publishing details of a grand jury subpoena issued to them for articles in the Phoenix New Times alternative weekly.

The 34-page suit, filed Tuesday in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, alleges the late-night arrest violated their constitutional rights. In addition to Arpaio, the lawsuit names as defendants the county attorney, Andrew Thomas, and a fired special prosecutor in the case, Dennis Wilenchik, their wives, and unnamed law enforcement officers. The lawsuit also alleges conspiracy, racketeering, and negligence.

Lacey’s and Larkin’s legal troubles began in 2004 when the New Times, which has been a critic of Arpaio for years, published articles about his real estate deals. One of the articles included Arpaio’s home address. After the story was posted online, the two were issued a subpoena by the special prosecutor alleging they had violated a law against publishing the home addresses of law enforcement officers.

“The subpoenas also sought detailed information on hundreds of thousands of private citizens who had visited the New Times’ Web site since 2004, including internet cookies and browsing information on every individual who looked at any story, review, listing, or advertisement,” the lawsuit states. “These unprecedented subpoenas sought the reading and purchasing habits of private citizens, and was clearly aimed at interfering with and/or destroying the business revenues of the newspaper.”

Lacey and Larkin say the sheriff and county attorney conspired to muzzle the New Times criticism of Arpaio.

“They abused their governmental authority by attacking the press, punishing free speech, demeaning the role and function of an impartial prosecutor and an independent judiciary, perverting the grand jury process, and serving notice to citizens who read news online that neither their identities nor their reading habits are safe from the reach of vindictive government officials and their confederates,” the lawsuit states.

The suit alleges that Wilenchik “took on his new role as a criminal prosecutor with all the zeal and ruthlessness that Arpaio and Thomas required, expected, and had paid for.”

In addition, he “engaged in a series of inappropriate, unethical, and unlawful acts that violated the Constitutional and Arizona law rights of the newspaper, its reporters, and those that read The New Times,” the suit states.

On Oct. 18, the News Times published an article about the sweeping subpoena. That night the two Village Voice Media executives were arrested by officers in Arpaio’s “Selective Enforcement Unit,” including some in a car with Mexican license plates.

The arrests caused a public uproar. Wilenchik was fired as special prosecutor, and the charges related to publishing Arpaio’s address were dropped.

Arpaio told The Arizona Republic he “welcomed” the lawsuit.

“They can’t take their own medicine, so they have to be like crybabies and file a lawsuit against the sheriff and the county attorney,” Arpaio said, according to the story by Michael Kiefer. “So you know what? I welcome the lawsuit. I welcome being sued. They’re going to have to answer a lot of questions.”

The lawsuit notes that the newspaper’s conflict with Arpaio goes back for years.

“Arpaio is not tolerant of criticism or questioning,” the lawsuit states. “The few that dare to criticize become targets for retribution by Arpaio and his agents. The history of this dispute (and Defendants’ animus toward Plaintiffs) began in the early 1990s, when The New Times published its first article critical of Sheriff Arpaio. The New Times, thus, became a target for attack by Arpaio.”

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