Thursday, May 1, 2008

Arpaio's junta sued for attack on the free press

Generalissimo ... err ... Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona, has landed himself in yet more legal hot water with his insistence on modeling his conduct on that of Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez. His jailing of two Phoenix New Times executives has resulted in a lawsuit against Arpaio, County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Dennis Wilenchik, a former special county prosecutor. The lawsuit, which makes fascinating reading (PDF), alleges: negligence; gross negligence; violations of constitutional rights (including violations of free speech, false imprisonment and retaliatory conduct by law enforcement) and conspiracy and racketeering.

The lawsuit includes a detailed summary of the conflict between Maricopa County's ruling junta and the crusading weekly newspaper. In short, though, the New Times has long disliked Arpaio and his cronies, accusing them of civil liberties violations, abuse of power and unethical conduct. In an article on Arpaio's curiously substantial real estate investments for a man who makes a modest income, the New Times published Arpaio's publicly available home address. This ran afoul of an almost-certainly unconstitutional state law forbidding such publication on the Web, but not in any other medium. After prolonged and unsuccessful attempts to get another county to handle the case, Maricopa County officials appointed a special prosecutor who subpoenaed information from the New Times, including names and addresses of its online readers, as well as details of what those readers viewed online. After county officials attempted to set up an inappropriate meeting with the judge handling the case, the New Times published details about the subpoena. County officials promptly arrested Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, founders of the Phoenix New Times and executives with Village Voice Media.

And that's how we ended up here.

This case is important enough on its own merits, dealing as it does with free speech and abuse of power. It has special importance, though, for Maricopa County residents because the Phoenix New Times is the only media outlet in the area to consistently challenge Joe Arpaio and company's history of self-aggrandizement, bigotry, civil rights violations, ethical lapses, and the tens of millions of dollars accrued in civil settlements. Other Arizona newspapers and even the national press have belatedly begun to pay attention to the excesses of the Maricopa junta, but Arpaio has been in office for 16 years and is running for reelection this year. Only the New Times has kept the spotlight on the sheriff and his cronies through all of those years.

So Maricopa County's jailing of Lacey and Larkin wasn't just an abuse of power and a violation of civil liberties; it was an attempt to muzzle the one journalistic enterprise that has been a thorn in the side of county officials for a decade-and-a-half.

As Joe Arpaio knows, America just isn't as far as we'd like to think from turning its own locally grown egomaniacs into tin-pot dictators.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Joe Arpaio would be happier plying his jackboots in Australia.,21985,23628010-661,00.html

May 4, 2008 9:41 AM  
Anonymous straightarrow said...

To be "the toughest sheriff in America" Arpaio sure seems to have a bad case of vaginitis.

Probably because he has the biggest posse in America.

February 24, 2009 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 19, 2009 12:59 AM  

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