New Times files a prelude to a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, County Attorney Andy Thomas and a discredited ex-special prosecutor on behalf of its readers and the Constitution

New Times submitted a formal Notice of Claim on Wednesday, February 20, against the public officials responsible for a fiasco in October that saw the attempted trampling of the First Amendment rights of this newspaper and its readers, and culminated in the jailing of its founders, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.

The notice, required under Arizona law before government officials can be sued, paints a political landscape gone awry, with public servants turning taxpayer-supported institutions on end in defiance of the U.S. Constitution, due process, and the right of a free press to operate without intimidation.

"This is not a decision undertaken lightly," said Michael Lacey, executive editor of Village Voice Media, which owns New Times, and who, along with CEO Larkin, founded the paper. "We are not an organization, and Larkin and I are not individuals, that sue people. It's just not what we do. But I feel like if we don't do something, it's an invitation for this kind of behavior to continue."

The "behavior" to which Lacey referred was particularly chilling: a special prosecutor running amok, issuing overbroad and unconstitutional subpoenas aimed at the reading and browsing habits of citizens; a vendetta by Sheriff Joe Arpaio against New Times and its staff, the arrests of the paper's executives on petty charges in the middle of the night by members of the sheriff's clandestine Selective Enforcement Unit.

"What emerges is one of the most nakedly oppressive, conscience-shocking assaults on a free press by police and prosecutors in U.S. history," observes New Times lawyer Michael Manning in the Notice of Claim.

By law, the notice had to be filed within 180 days of the culmination of the events described here and had to contain a damages amount. New Times is asking for $15 million in damages if the matter is settled before April 15, the end of a 60-day period in which the defendants — Arpaio, Thomas and Wilenchik — must reply. "If New Times is required to pursue litigation, the settlement demand will increase," the notice warns.


Earlier in the day on which Lacey and Larkin were arrested at their homes and bundled off to jail, County Attorney Andrew Thomas' handpicked special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik essentially demanded that New Times be bankrupted.

Wilenchik had asked Superior Court Judge Anna Baca to impose crushing fines against the paper for daring to publish an October 18 story ("Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution") about his grand jury subpoenas seeking vast, detailed information about New Times' readers. For this misdemeanor, Wilenchik not only wanted the story's authors, Lacey and Larkin, and their lawyers arrested, he wanted Baca to assess fines of $10,000 for every hour that New Times refused to take the grand jury story off newspaper racks and the Internet. In the course of a year, the fines would have totaled about $90 million.

To get a better handle on the enormity of Wilenchik's demand, consider that New Times bills about $14 million annually, out of which printing, rent, supplies, salaries, benefits, and taxes must be paid.

Wilenchik's gambit was not an aberration. After his appointment as special prosecutor, he continually upped the ante in his extra-constitutional game of brinkmanship. No grand jury was ever impaneled during the affair. Rather, as Lacey observed in a subsequent column ("He Just Doesn't Get It," November 1, 2007), Wilenchik "anointed" himself the grand jury in power-mad defiance of state law. The law holds that a prosecutor must notify the grand jury foreman and the presiding judge within 10 days of issuing any subpoenas.

"Wilenchik did neither," New Times' Notice of Claim states. "The grand jury was nothing more than an empty prop to Wilenchik." Accordingly, it was not the legal system that put the brakes on this rogue prosecutor; it was a public incensed over the news of the Lacey-Larkin arrests. County Attorney Thomas, Wilenchik's former employee at the law firm of Wilenchik & Bartness, grudgingly called a press conference at his office on October 19, the day after the arrests, and fired Wilenchik as special prosecutor.

"We are not going to proceed with this investigation," stated Thomas, before a packed room of reporters. "There is a right way and a wrong way to bring a prosecution and to hold people accountable for their offenses. And what happened here was the wrong way. I do not condone it. I do not defend it. And so it ends today."

Thomas nervously hedged his mea culpa. He would not apologize to New Times, instead insisting that the newspaper apologize to Arpaio for publishing his home address online, even though Arpaio's address remains readily available on government Web sites, such as those of the Maricopa County Recorder's Office and the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Though Thomas fired Wilenchik from handling future criminal matters for the County Attorney's Office, he retained him as counsel in civil matters. As a result, Wilenchik & Bartness continues to rack up county money.

As the notice against Wilenchik and the others explains, Wilenchik's lucrative stint representing the county appears to be quid pro quo. Wilenchik employed Thomas at his law firm during the time Thomas was first running for county attorney in 2004. Yet there's no proof available that Thomas ever billed legal work for the firm. Since Thomas took office, Wilenchik's firm has banked $2.4 million — and counting — for legal work for the county.

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23 comments
Raymond Newberry
Raymond Newberry

California undermines the people of Arizona

California top brass are coming down hard on Arizona due to the much needed change in policy for the betterment of Arizona residents. Arizona has come up with a novel plan that will help create jobs, reduce unemployment and free up the tax burden for all American citizens residing in Arizona..

This idea is not something that Mexico is happy about but I have to ask the same question that Pat Buchanan has asked in the past, "who's country is this anyway?"

Remember those who endorsed Obama as president of the United States of America? Let me refresh your memory,obama was being celebrated with dancing on the streets by countries ruled by dictators with names like,

Kim Jung Ill, Moammar Kadafi, Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad Mwai Kibaki all clearly enemies of the United States of America which is why they so loved the fact that their guy, Hussein obama, was elected the new dictator in charge...

Back to the United States and California, apparently the top brass recognizes a great plan when they see it which is why Texas wants to follow suit and duplicate Arizona's new policy but,

elected officials in California want a travel moratorium placed on Arizona because your California representatives do not like the fact that citizens of the United States of America, specifically Arizonians, may finally improve their current lifestyle.

This brings up a simple question that we all should ponder, as simple as Pat Bucannon's question, "just who is California's legislators working for anyway? Mexico? Terrorists? They want to try and destroy Arizona's economy by placing a traveling moratorium, why? What can be accomplished by that besides undermining everything that Arizona is trying to do to improve the current status...Do you thinks something very selfish and very immorally wrong is in that logic which your representatives in California are hoping to do to Arizonians?

Who's state is it anyways?

My suggestion to all of us is to redirect our vacation plans and visit Arizona to show your support for Americans who are not afraid to say, enough is enough....

Raymond Newberry

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news...

AZNative
AZNative

Well knock yourself out Raymond. As and Arizonian, I will tell you that this new bill will not create new jobs. I have lived here for 47 years and I will tell you no one is going to take the jobs these Mexicans do. I say Mexican and not illegal because the fact remains that most of these jobs are being held by LEGAL immigrants and the US Citizens who happen to be Hispanics. One more thing, this state is/has been run by crooks as long as I can remember. Luck up Arizona political history and do your own research and you will see a state that has been built on the backs of illegal/legal immigrants and run by people who were of ill repute. So stay where you are at Raymond and mind your own business. Unless you live here, keep your opinions to yourself.

Clowning Around
Clowning Around

Just another week in Nazicopa County with der fuhrers Arpaio and Thomas.

David Erlichman
David Erlichman

I guess "David" of "David v. the System" (See, New Times, August 1997) wasn't the "whackjob" Paul Rubin made him out to be! Glad to see (11 years later) that you have chosen to stand in the ring and fight back at American fascism. "Freedom is not a gift from heaven. One must fight for it every day." Simon Wiesenthal.

Jon V Tiffany
Jon V Tiffany

I left Phoenix in 1989 but still read the New Times on line on a weekly basis to keep up with what's happening in a town I happen to like. For Joe Arpaio to include me and my reading habits in his sweeping subpoena is abhorrent. Count me in if there is a class action lawsuit against sheriff Joe and Maricopa County.Jon V Tiffany

K
K

Thanks very much for helping to defend the Constitution. THANK YOU!

SCREW JOE
SCREW JOE

SCREW THAT FAT ASS JOE. GO GET HIM, FAT-ASS STEPHEN. MUCH LOVE AND RESPECT

kbp
kbp

Hopefully the sun will shine on the truth in this potential complaint.

It would be helpful if there were links to court filings and rulings in the many other cases noted in this article.

Best of luck.

Andy Bartholomay
Andy Bartholomay

Any chance Arpaio will become a resident of his own jail, forced to eat bologna 3 times a day?

Carlos
Carlos

GO GET THEM !!You are the only paper in Phx with guts enough to go after those jokers...Keep up the good work,, we depend on you to read the truth..When it comes to public officials..Those 3 jokers(arpaio, thomas..and wilsh...) think they own the state of Az.

neil
neil

I liked o'l Joe for his audacious law enforcements, but after reading these articles, it look like the sheriff has been out on the hot Arizona sun for too long suffering from a baked brain. His swollen head makes his condition critical!

Mikey
Mikey

Does anyone else find it interesting that Joe calls this group of thugs his 'SELECTIVE Enforcement Unit'? That should set off warning bells right there, but the Blue-Hairs keep voting this ass-clown into office. Glad I moved out of Az, although, there are some politicians here who make Az pols look like some kind of cross between the perfect iberal and the perfect conservative rolled into one.

Consta2Shon
Consta2Shon

Its about time these thugs are held accountable for their Hitler type actions and abuse of all our freedoms.I know of a person held in Joe's jail being denied medications and held for days when hospitalization was required,while the C.O.'s laughed and berated him.The cells are filthy with variuos biohazzard,(hair,snot,finger& toenails,dirt,and other unidentafiable fluids)all this while feeding those detained rancid meat sandwiches on a brown industrial paper towel.Some of the cells don't even have a sink to wash your hands or a toilet.A hole with a metal feces encrusted grate is provided for "natures call".These deplorable conditions exist for anyone accused of a crime before they are even found guilty.Oh, you guessed it, mi amigos charges were later dropped. Lets protect our Freedom and Human Rights,not the The Three Dumd Human Lice.Its time for the Dictators or Three blind Mice to get thier "cum-up-pants".Watch Out for the farmers wife!

justine
justine

This is best news i have heard so far! Go get em we're right behind you. These slugs think they can come in and do as they please and answer to no one. Hmmm. This is total abuse of power and they have been doing it all along. You can fool some of the people some of the time.......Those bill boards advertiseing themselves for their next political position and paid for by the voters ot to be burned down, or sub captioned "I am costing you the public and have their hands in their pants pockets the real theives.Pity the ignorant who allow the cameras to dictate their small minds how great they are. And now they are using the churchs to run around telling people how to prevent crime??? That is not the prosecutors job. Who else is watching these 3 musketeers? Look what happened to Roomeney when teamed up with (quote Tucson "An in competent vaudevillain campainging for a duplicitous moron, should be on comedy central. Surely this cant be the best the Republicans party has to offer"

RIck
RIck

If 15MD (taxpayer money) is what it takes for these 3 clowns to: teach them a lesson, to take them out of the office, to show the public who they really are, to possibly put them in jail, to embarrasse them, to make them suffer. then I don't mind footing the bill. hell make it 30MD!

PEMulholland
PEMulholland

Go get them! As a Maricopa County taxpayer I would not mind a raise in taxes if it meant a big payout for the antics of the sheriff's office. Big Brother is not dead, but it is important to do what we can to get him neutralized.

Native Arizonan since 1956
Native Arizonan since 1956

Check out this mornings edition of the Republic. Dennis Wilenchik has a column in the Opinions section wherein he lays out the legal basis for the heavyhanded arrests of the New Times owners. He further absolves himself of any responsibility in the arrests and places that decision squarely on the Sheriff's Office. Hmmmmm . . . . something's rotten in Phoenix and it ain't the New Times.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Great job Stephen.It's been a really great group effort by all of you.Let's just keep pounding the truth at them !Glad your feeling better :-)

Remaining vigilant
Remaining vigilant

Excerpt caught my eye, "We are not going to proceed with this investigation," stated Thomas.

Right, someone got caught with their pants down! (trite but true)6a7

Where's the money?
Where's the money?

As a seasonal visitor here, I followed John Dougherty's informative articles and then after time, wondered you silenced him.

A County Sheriff selling marketing trinkets as his own personal "brand" using taxpayers money is something beyond belief!By allowing him to build his "brand" at taxpayers expense, we now have out of control criminal justice system, overrun courts, jails and prisons -- Who gets the money from the bobbleheads and trinkets? And who foots the bill? Somethingis very wrong with this picture.

Now I find out, I'm not the only one who can't find answers to my questions. Hopefully the court case will find the missinganswers. I won't miss a day of the trial. It will be an event to behold. This is the publicity the public needs to see.

Ghandi
Ghandi

To comment #1 - I was never in the newpaper business, so don't throw me in the mix.

BREAK UP THIS GANG!
BREAK UP THIS GANG!

Stephen Lemons,

Thank you for your brilliantly written and courageous article, on abuse of power in Maricopa County and the State of Arizona.

You have informed the public, and the numbers are staggering.

The cruel and inhumane culture, created and perpetuated by Arpaio and Thomas is so entrenched that it does not see itself. They've made it into a joke. Quality of life in this county and state is worse than it was four years ago, along with staggering debt.

This reign of terror must end. THIS Gang is a disgrace to the State of Arizona and America. This is not what I thought I voted for and plan on flipping the switch this election. Hope you the voters do the same.

This growing prison state and war zone Arizona has become is alarming. It affects not only Arizona taxpayers but those throughout the country, who will have to bail this county and state out with their own dollars. If you think Katrina was a financial mess, you haven't seen anything yet. Do you trust this Gang to spend your tax dollars?

The County Commissioners and the State of Arizona Bar have a responsibility to protect the public, and need to take immediate action on abuse of power by County Attorney Thomas. The Attorney General of the State of North Carolina set precedent and stepped in to get rid of District (County) Attorney Nifong. Now it's time for Attorney General Goddard to do the same. If nothing is done than you will all be complicit in the ongoing destruction of what was once a fine State.

Using mugs shots, billboards and fearmongering gimmicks is getting tired and old. Whose next among the "perfect" society? Wasting taxpayers money on marketing (election) brochures at taxpayers expense is a disgrace. Costly Crime Prevention Brochures? What the public needs are Brochures that help them defend themselves against abuse of power, overzealous law enforcement and overzealous prosecution, stacked charges and legal lingo that no one understands. It's time to end the sickening game of destroying people in the name of "tough on crime". It's time to turn the tables. We've had enough.

It's time for change and a new vision for a brighter future. Maricopa County and the State of Arizona is eating it's young.No wonder, there is a shortage of teachers, medical staffs, doctors, nurses, caregivers and on and on. It's time to recognize and educate them on how at risk they are living and working in this county and state. That's the brochure we need to see.

It time to break up THIS Gang!! These are true criminals, violating the public trust and abusing it's own.

Enough, is enough!! THIS GANG MUST GO!

craig  parks
craig parks

Lacey engages in civil disobedience and then sues when he suffers the consequences. I cannot imagine Gandhi doing that. The fact that Lacey was arrested for knowingly committing a crime is not the basis of a lawsuit. I respected Lacey for his principles in publishing the original story but this lawsuit shows he is not a man of convictions but someone who wants more time in the limelight and money.

 
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