Two news executives this week sued Arizona officials over their controversial late-night arrests last year. Michael Lacey, the executive editor, and Jim Larkin, chief executive, of the Phoenix New Times filed suit on Tuesday against Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, county attorney Andrew Thomas and former county special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik and two county agencies.
The move is the latest in an ongoing battle between the paper and county officials. In October, Lacey and Larkin were arrested for revealing in a front page story that Wilenchik subpoenaed a startling amount of information from the paper and its reporters, including every story the New Times published about Arpaio since Jan. 1, 2004, all of the notes, tapes and records of the reporters dealing with Arpaio in the same time frame, and the identity, browsing habits, and buying habits of all New Times online readers. A superior court judge later found that the subpoenas failed to comply with state law.
Soon after they drew attention to the outrageous request, Thomas dropped all charges against Lacey and Larkin and fired Wilenchik, who was investigating whether the paper violated a never-enforced state law that prohibits publishing a law enforcement official’s address on the Internet.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants “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 on-line that neither their identities nor their reading habits are safe from the reach of vindictive government officials and their confederates.”
Although the suit does not ask for a specific amount of money, a previous court filing indicated that Larkin and Lacey thought that they deserved $15 million for being wrongly arrested and investigated by the county officials.