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Charges dropped against Arizona media executives

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Oct. 19, 2007  ·   Charges have been dropped against two media executives from a weekly newspaper in Arizona who…

Oct. 19, 2007  ·   Charges have been dropped against two media executives from a weekly newspaper in Arizona who were arrested in their homes late Thursday night after their paper published details involving a grand jury investigation.

Michael Lacey, the executive editor, and Jim Larkin, chief executive, were arrested after writing a story in the Phoenix New Times revealing that a special prosecutor subpoenaed Village Voice Media, its executives, its reporters and personal information about the readers of the paper’s Web site.

In their story about the ongoing case, Larkin and Lacey said the publication of information about the subpoenas might be viewed as illegal, but published the information anyway to confront what they believe is an attack on freedom of the press.

“It is, we fear, the authorities’ belief that what you are about to read here is against the law to publish,” they wrote in support of their disclosure. “But there are moments when civil disobedience is merely the last option.”

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced Friday afternoon that he had fired special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik, who was investigating whether the New Times committed a crime by publishing Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s home address.

The paper initially published the address, which is available in public records, in an article examining the sheriff’s real estate investments. Although there are no legal limits on publishing the same information in a print publication, state law prohibits publishing a law enforcement official’s address on the Internet.

In the article, published in July 2004, the New Times questioned how Arpaio, who was making $72,000 a year, could pay for several parcels of land with nearly $1 million. Columnist John Dougherty also questioned the elected sheriff’s decision to keep those investments hidden from public view, alleging that Arpaio had the records of his real estate investments purged from county recorder’s office.

As part of the investigation, Wilenchik has subpoenaed a great deal of information, 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 – and not just the readers who accessed the articles about Arpaio.

The paper believes that the investigation is retribution against the paper for critical stories published about Arpaio.

Lacey and Larkin chose to make the grand jury’s subpoenas public after learning that Wilenchik attempted to meet privately with the judge, a move they say violates court and ethics rules.

Matthew Pollack

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