Phoenix New Times Files Suit Over Last Year’s Grand Jury Debacle

April 29, 2008
For Immediate Release

Village Voice Media’s Phoenix newspaper has filed suit against Maricopa County, Arizona, officials for violating the constitutional rights of the paper, its owners and its readers

Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the executive editor and chief executive officer of VVM and the founders of Phoenix New Times, filed the lawsuit today in Superior Court in Phoenix.

The complaint demands general and punitive damages from county sheriff Joe Arpaio, county attorney Andrew Thomas, and special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik.

The 34-page complaint details constitutional abuses by Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik, including the wrongful arrests of Lacey and Larkin, who were taken into custody last year by sheriff’s deputies driving unmarked cars, one of which bore a Mexico license plate.

The journalists were arrested because they published a story detailing a renegade grand jury investigation by Wilenchik. It has since been revealed that Wilenchik, acting at the behest of Thomas and Arpaio, issued sweeping subpoenas and ordered arrests without ever actually consulting a grand jury.

Those illegal subpoenas included demands that the paper turn over detailed information about the web browsing habits of its readers.

The complaint also describes a pattern of corruption on the part of the defendants, including previous wrongful prosecutions of political enemies. Because of that history of misconduct, the newspaper’s lawsuit includes allegations of racketeering and conspiracy.

The arrests of Lacey and Larkin marked the apex of an ongoing battle between New Times and the defendants, and prompted a new series of investigative reports by the paper’s staff :

That series of 2007 articles, collectively titled “Target Practice,” has been awarded the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism from the University of Oregon and was named a finalist in the National Journalism Awards sponsored by the Scripps-Howard Foundation. It included stories revealing Arpaio’s outrageous attempts to target undocumented immigrants for arrest, as well as a remarkable attack on the entire Maricopa County judiciary waged by Thomas and Wilenchik.

“Target Practice” augmented years of New Times stories about Arpaio’s dubious activities. Those stories ranged from revelations about suspicious real estate deals to investigations of the barbaric conditions in the Maricopa County Jail.

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