Loose Lips

Terry Goddard fights for the right to slander the hell out of us all. Sigh

The appeals court disagreed with a 2-1 vote. Smart judges. But rather than take the hint, Goddard appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. (At press time, his lawyers were expected to make their case in front of the court on Tuesday, October 2.)

Goddard's attempt has raised eyebrows in the legal community.

"It's kind of surprising because it's unnecessary," Bender says, noting that Goddard could have easily defended his remarks by saying that they merely repeated information in legal briefings, or even arguing that since he believed the information was true, he had full legal immunity.

So why would he argue that he needs more protection?

Beats me. More importantly, it beats Paul Bender, too.

"It's hard to justify why he should be absolutely immune from lawsuits," the law professor notes. "Absolute immunity would allow him to say things that are outrageous. Because if it isn't outrageous, he's protected already."

Goddard's spokeswoman declined comment, saying the court records speak for themselves.

Patrick Van Zanen is one of the attorneys handling the case for the developer suing Goddard. "Look, all we're saying is that you can't knowingly and maliciously defame somebody," he tells me. "That's not asking too much."

Goddard argues that, as a public official, we the people are his clients. He has a duty to share the facts of his cases with us without fear of lawsuits.

But, as Van Zanen asks, "if you're knowingly and maliciously giving false information about a case, have you informed your client — or have you misled them?"

Just look at that sleazy TV reporter in Joe Arpaio's smear of his rival, Dan Saban. As my colleague Paul Rubin reported, Arpaio's top deputy leaked a sketchy allegation against Saban, then running for sheriff, to Channel 15's Rob Koebel. Saban's adoptive mother claimed that, when he was a teenager, he'd raped her. Never mind that the alleged incident had happened more than 30 years earlier and that the woman was only now coming forward; Koebel ran with the story almost immediately ("Below the Belt," September 20, 2007). He didn't bother to check out the facts that would have made it clear that Saban's accuser was a woman with serious credibility problems.

For lazy reporters, it's all too easy to justify running with a dubious story just because it came from an official source. And that doesn't serve anything except, maybe, journalistic ambition. The public gets misled, and, ultimately, someone gets slandered.

You only have to look at what happened in the Ajo Al's case to see that. After Thomas made his careless allegations against the restaurateurs — painting a vivid word picture of diners with diarrhea and vomiting — TV stations all over town, as well as the Republic, ran with the story enthusiastically.

A few days later, I got a call from the restaurant's owners, Karen and Dennis "Pat" Dains. They were going out of their minds. Business had dropped precipitously. (In fact, their lawyer tells me, in the year since Thomas made his claims, they've lost a staggering $1 million in business — and Ajo Al's has the records to prove it.)

The Dains knew that the health department had found no link between their employees and the bacteria that Thomas accused them of spreading. But they couldn't get anyone to listen, despite soliciting every media outlet in town. They were yesterday's news; nobody would take their call.

I wrote a story about their case ("Panic Attack," July 13, 2006) that made it startlingly clear to me just how much damage careless public officials, and a complicit media, can do.

Recently, the Dains have filed a notice of claim, announcing their intent to sue the county for more than $8 million. But even if they win, it's too late to get their reputation back.

It's something that Bender, the ASU law professor, has seen time and time again.

"Really, the things that prosecutors say at press conferences can be very harmful — and the things they say can hurt people for a long time, even if they're not true," he says.

So why would we want to give any public official complete and total immunity from lawsuits? It's bad enough that they can drag a private citizen's name through the mud on a whim.

If the Supreme Court gives them the right to do it with malice, we're all completely screwed. In fact, we're probably all guilty of raping our very own mothers.

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3 comments
rich
rich

Absolute power is ABSOLUTE CORRUPTION,The fact that his office is even thinking it should have immunity, should be of GREAT concern to everybody.Our country was founded on that ALL men are created equal, not just the citizens!!With the condition of our country they need stricter punishment for government!

rich
rich

Absolute power is absolute corruption, The fact that his office is EVEN thinking of immunity should be of concern to ALL AMERICANS!!! "ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL" is what this country is founded on, and if someone wants to change, alter, bend, ignore it's meaning they should be prosecutes for treason.

francine hardaway
francine hardaway

I still patronize Ajo Al's to try to singlehandedly save them from bankruptcy. I've never gotten sick.

 
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