Histrionics Lesson

Again, a judge bends over and allows Sheriff Joe Arpaio to sneer at Arizona's public records law

By October of last year, the MCSO began producing a fraction of the records I had requested in some cases months earlier. Among them were the police reports from the Ahwatukee raid.

Need I reiterate that these records, available in July, were only released after the suit was filed.

Also, the MCSO's halfhearted compliance with state law came only after Arpaio had defeated Saban (by the narrowest margin of his career) in the Republican primary and would be facing weak competition in the general election.

Just because you've never seen the records, that doesn't mean they aren't public.
Just because you've never seen the records, that doesn't mean they aren't public.
The infamous exchange with Arpaio flack Lisa Allen-
McPherson that led to the lawsuit.
The infamous exchange with Arpaio flack Lisa Allen- McPherson that led to the lawsuit.

If there ever was a public records lawsuit that clearly documented bad faith on the part of a government agency in refusing to release public records, ours was it.

As part of my job as an investigative reporter, I have filed public records requests for more than 20 years, and I have never encountered a government agency with less regard for the open-records law. Not even former Arizona governor J. Fife Symington III resorted to the obstructionist tactics of Arpaio and his lackeys.

What's worse is that Judge Michael D. Jones is letting Arpaio get away with violating state law.

Despite the aforementioned stack of evidence showing the MCSO's indisputable bad faith in complying with the public records law, Jones commented in his ruling: "This Court rejects Petitioners' claims as unsupported by anything other than argument and histrionics."

Histrionics!? Jones must be referring to some of the columns I have written about the scoundrel Arpaio rather than the evidence before him. Did he even read the case file, which jurists are supposed to use solely to make their decisions? I have to wonder this, because to wonder anything else suggests that Judge Jones is quivering under his robe at the very thought of ruling against the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America."

The evidence in the case clearly shows it was the MCSO that resorted to "argument and histrionics" to block the timely release of public records. Apparently, Jones did not read Lisa Allen-McPherson's sworn affidavit and deposition. In those, she admitted under oath that she told me during a heated confrontation last September 3 in front of the Fourth Avenue Jail that the sheriff's office would not release the records requested by New Times.

I told Allen-McPherson that she was violating the state public records law, which prompted her to yell back in front of then-candidate-for-sheriff Saban and several news reporters: "So sue us!"

Talk about histrionics.

If Allen-McPherson had a legitimate reason for not releasing the records -- such as honestly believing they were not covered by the public records law -- I could possibly begin to understand Judge Jones' ridiculous ruling. But the excuse Allen-McPherson offered was based on the fact that New Times has been calling bullshit on Joe Arpaio for 12 years.

Here's what she said in the sworn affidavit filed in the MCSO's response to New Times' suit: "I told Dougherty I thought he was a liar and never wanted to respond to his requests." She reiterated that she was not going to comply with the public records law in her November 29 deposition. Her reason:

"I don't like [Dougherty's] paper. I don't think his paper is legitimate."

I have to admit, I was thrilled to hear Allen-McPherson utter such idiotic statements under oath. I thought at the time that she had handed the case to us on a silver platter. What judge with half a brain would not see that the MCSO spitefully violated state law?

Well, that would be Judge Michael D. Jones.

Not surprisingly, Arpaio is publicly gloating over Jones' ruling. The sheriff is claiming that New Times' efforts to obtain the public records are part of a long-standing "feud."

In a press release that, as usual, was sent to every media outlet in the Phoenix area except New Times, Arpaio brags that the courts have repeatedly ruled against this paper's efforts to obtain public records from his office.

"This is the third time they have sued for claims about public records and the third time they have been slam-dunked by the courts. This shows the transparent animosity and spite that this outfit has for me in its writings," Arpaio spewed in the release.

"It is obvious that the voters have seen through their vicious attacks, too," he claimed, "since they have been after me now for over 12 years and I'm still here."

Arpaio's characterization of the dispute between the MCSO and New Times as a "feud" belittles the serious matter at hand. We have been seeking public records from the MCSO because we believe they would reveal the truth about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's operation. Come on, you would have to be a moron to believe that Arpaio has been aboveboard!

But he is right about one thing. We have been needling this top county law enforcement officer for more than a decade to obey the law.

What's getting lost in all this -- and it is a point that obviously escapes Judge Jones -- is that the public has the right to know how Arpaio runs his taxpayer-financed office. Did Jones not notice that none of the records requests I filed from late May on were responded to until after we filed suit in late September? The smattering of MCSO records that writers from this paper have managed to obtain over the years reveal a persistent and chilling pattern of abuse.

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