Village Voice Media executive editor Mike Lacey and chairman/CEO Jim Larkin received the honor at the AZ ACLU's annual Bill of Rights dinner this weekend. They were being honored for publishing the county's illegal grand jury subpoenas against the Phoenix New Times and its readers last fall, for which the pair was ultimately arrested. But in presenting the award to the New Times founders, AZ ACLU past president John Hay explained that the well-publicized dust-up was only the tip of the iceberg. "The excuse we're using is what happened this fall when they faced down the Sheriff and the County Attorney. But they have in fact been defending civil liberties now for at least 38 years," Hay said. "So it is my pleasure to present these awards, which I think are slightly wrong. This says Civil Libertarian of the Year. I present these awards to Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin for being Civil Libertarians of the past four decades."
The paper was a finalist in the "Distinguished Service to the First Amendment" category for revealing that New Times was the target of a grand jury probe, a dust-up that resulted in the paper's founders being arrested. But despite the national honors and publicity surrounding the case, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio claims to still not know about the paper. "Is that a porno magazine?" Arpaio says in an interview with NPR, "feigning ignorance" upon reference of the publication's name. "You're talking about the weekly paper they have to give away free?" New Times founder Michael Lacey also talks to NPR about Arpaio, explaining the conditions that led to his being arrested. "What made them think they could get away with it is they've been gradually getting away with it for years here," Lacey says. "You begin with prisoners. Then you move on to Mexicans. Then you move on to editors and reporters."
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.
Michael Bowen (The Pacific Northwest Inlander), Skylar Browning (Missoula Independent), Brendan Kiley (The Stranger), and Ashley Lindstrom (San Antonio Current) have been named fellows in the fourth National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at USC's Annenberg School. The fellows will participate in a rigorous 10-day program in February with guest faculty including L.A. Weekly theater editor Steven Leigh Morris.
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.
John Conroy, Harold Henderson, Tori Marlan and Steve Bogira were laid off this week by editor Alison True, Michael Miner writes on his News Bites blog. True tells the Chicago Tribune that, given the mandate to cut costs by her new bosses at Creative Loafing in August, it became difficult to afford their work. "The numbers are part of a deal that was structured a long time ago," she says. "Even if [CEO Ben Eason] were the most passionate journalist in the world, he wouldn't have the option of saying, 'I'll give you a little extra this year so this doesn't have to happen.' He's bound to his deal." Meanwhile, Fishbowl DC is reporting that five editorial staffers were laid off at the Reader's sister paper today: Washington City Paper writers Joe Eaton, Amanda S. Miller, Tim Carman and Jessica Gould, and editorial assistant Joe Dempsey, are all no longer with the paper.
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.