As we reported yesterday, Lacey's Phoenix New Times is charging Maricopa County officials with violating his and Jim Larkin's constitutional rights, and with malicious prosecution, racketeering and conspiracy in conjunction with their October arrest for publishing the contents of a grand jury subpoena. "The critical question is: How do they get to the point where they believe that they have the right to arrest journalists in the middle of the night and subpoena the identity of the people that read our newspaper? They didn't get there overnight," the New Times founder and Village Voice Media executive editor tells the Arizona Republic. "They began by abusing prisoners, and there was a staircase escalation where they were never stopped."
The paper yesterday filed a formal Notice of Claim against the officials responsible for the October blowup which ended with the paper's founders in jail. The notice, which is required by Arizona law to be filed before government officials can be sued, accuses the defendants of violating Michael Lacey's and Jim Larkin's constitutional rights, with malicious prosecution, racketeering and conspiracy. The paper is asking for $15 million in damages if the matter is settled before April 15. "If New Times is required to pursue litigation, the settlement demand will increase," the notice warns. "This is not a decision undertaken lightly," says Lacey. "But I feel like if we don't do something, it's an invitation for this kind of behavior to continue." The County Attorney's office, which is named in the claim, dismisses the legal maneuver as "frivolous," with a spokesman telling the Arizona Republic: "We are confident that it will be exposed as the bunk it is."
On Friday, Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey testified in the predatory pricing trial. The Guardian says Lacey "had some trouble answering some key questions" about SF Weekly's ad sales and a 1995 meeting where he met the Weekly staff shortly after purchasing the paper. The Weekly says Lacey's testimony illustrated that his and Bruce Brugmann's "editorial philosophies were worlds apart," and notes that Lacey's testimony showed he is not involved in the business side of VVM's affairs. This is key because of comments he made about being "the only game in town," which the Guardian is using as evidence he wanted to drive them out of business. Patricia Calhoun, editor of Denver's Westword, which New Times bought in 1983, also testified on Friday, and according to the Weekly, she "got on and off the stand in only about twenty minutes, a timely performance that drew appreciative nods from jurors." The trial resumes today.
The predatory pricing suit against SF Weekly and Village Voice Media asserts that the Weekly sold ads below cost to push the Guardian out of business. (The suit also names former VVM property East Bay Express as a defendant.) VVM executive editor Michael Lacey thinks Bay Guardian publisher/editor Bruce Brugmann is using the Weekly as a "scapegoat" for his own problems in dealing with new challenges in print media. "[The lawsuit] is how he's hoping to maintain his business in a really tough media market," Lacey tells The San Francisco Daily Journal, a local legal publication. But Brugmann disputes this notion. "From our point of view, the fact that the economy is not good and there are other problems in this business only makes this problem more acute," he says. Jury selection is set to begin tomorrow in San Francisco County Superior Court. Legal experts tell the Daily Journal that predatory-pricing cases face different odds depending on where they are filed, adding that California superior courts are generally seen as more friendly to plaintiffs than federal courts.
The paper has dropped its lawsuit asking a federal judge to declare the law that makes it a crime to publish the addresses of certain people on the internet unconstitutional, the Arizona Business Gazette reports. The statute was the one that began the recent grand-jury investigation of New Times and the arrests and controversy that followed. Since the threat of prosecution against the paper had been dropped, "it made no sense to tilt at windmills," Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey tells the Gazette. However, since the case was dismissed "without prejudice," the paper could reinstate its case if there is any subsequent investigation. Lacey says he would hope all the publicity surrounding the case would convince the county attorney not to try to enforce that law against New Times or any other publication.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced this afternoon that he was dismissing the case against Village Voice Media executives Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, who were arrested last night after publishing a story revealing that their Phoenix New Times was a target of a grand jury probe. Thomas said that the case had been grossly mishandled, according to the Arizona Republic. "It has become clear to me the investigation has gone in a direction I would not have authorized," Thomas says. The grand jury had been convened to investigate charges that the New Times violated the law when it posted Sheriff Joe Arpaio's home address on its website in 2004.
When New Times published a story yesterday revealing that it was the target of a grand jury probe, it acknowledged that it was exposing itself to potential criminal charges. It sure didn't take long for those charges to come to fruition. The co-authors of the piece, VVM executive editor Michael Lacey and chief executive Jim Larkin, were arrested last night at their homes in Phoenix on charges that the story revealed grand jury secrets, according to the New York Times. The East Valley Tribune reports that the arrests came at the request of the special prosecutor. "It is an extraordinary sequence of events," says Steve Suskin, legal counsel for VVM. "The arrests were not totally unexpected, but they represent an act of revenge and a vindictive response on the part of an out of control sheriff." In addition, New Times reporter Ray Stern was given a criminal citation on Thursday for disorderly conduct after an argument over taking photos of public records at the sheriff's office. "They're trying to muzzle us," editor Rick Barrs says. "This is retaliation against us. And it's not just retaliation against us, it's retaliation against the press." UPDATE: Lacey, upon being released from jail this morning, spoke with reporters. "The way that this operates is that they select someone to make an example out of, and they selected our organization," he says. "Hopefully, other media organizations will begin to speak up and speak out about what's going on here."
"As a source of gossip, half truths, lies, slander, unfounded speculation and general lazy-ass foolishness, LA Observed remains invaluable," Village Voice Media's executive editor writes in an e-mail published on the site. "Comes the news flash that three writers have, or will soon, depart the L.A. Weekly. To LA Observed, these are not matters of opportunity but signs of darkening skies," he writes. "In a city like Los Angeles writers find books, scripts and other opportunities. At any newspaper you have the occasional clash. You might have ascertained all of the above if you ever picked up the phone and talked to the targets of your biliousness."
In a conversation with the New York Times' David Carr, Village Voice Media's executive editor addresses the editorial merry-go-round at the chain's flagship paper. "We didn't expect things to happen overnight," Lacey says. He also tells Carr that a move to New York might be in the cards once his kids leave for college. "I'm not going to edit the paper hands-on," he says, "but I will be close enough to make whoever is editing the paper more miserable than they already are."
Lacey Phillabaum, a former staff writer for The Source Weekly and C-Ville Weekly, entered a federal detention center in January, six months before she will be sentenced for her role in torching a $4 million University of Washington horticulture facility, the Hook reports. Phillabaum pleaded guilty to three counts of arson in October, and faces three to five years in prison. "She's really eager to put this behind her," says friend James Johnson. The Hook also reports that friends of Phillabaum have set up an informative website about her in part "to counter the radical left-wing blogs that have accused her of being a snitch."