Russell Pearce's Fave Paper and Its Lawyer's Letter to Benita Lantigua
U.S. citizen Benita Lantigua: Sonoran News has yet to print a correction to its article maligning her
So far, the Sonoran News' editor/publisher Don Sorchych and his flunky scribe Linda "Wrong Way" Bentley continue to stonewall on correcting, retracting or apologizing for their misreporting and sinister insinuations concerning Mesa resident and American citizen Benita Lantigua.
This would be simple to do, and it would be the right thing to do. Instead, the Sonoran News hired the high-powered law firm of Stinson Morrison Hecker to write a three page missive to Lantigua's lawyer, offering to publish a letter to the editor, should Lantigua choose to write one.
No retraction of a bad piece. No correction of the misinformation. And no apology. Lantigua can write a 550-word letter to the editor, but that's it. If Sonoran News had its way, it would never officially correct the record.
In fact, Bentley recently repeated her misreporting concerning Lantigua, as if what she'd done was an example of class-A journalism.
The three-pager written by lawyer Craig Morgan asserts that Sonoran News is blameless and that Bentley was merely reporting "facts" regarding her review of the petition to recall state Senate President Russell Pearce, which Lantigua signed.
Moreover, Morgan implies that there was something compelling about these "facts" that argued for publishing them.
"In light of the First Amendment issues at stake," writes Morgan, "Ms. Lantigua will have to meet a high burden in a lawsuit against the Sonoran News. While she may be a private citizen, immigration, accuracy of public records, and crimes are all matters of public concern."
(Full disclosure: Mike Manning, a partner with Stinson Morrison Hecker, represents New Times in its lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Small world.)
You can read Morgan's entire letter for yourself, here. When I called him about it, he declined to discuss the matter.
Concerning the quote above, what does the issue of immigration have to do with this story? Actually, nothing, unless one is addressing the bigotry Bentley and Sorchych have displayed toward those who have come here from other countries, legally.
See, Lantigua is a naturalized U.S. citizen and has been so for many years. Yet, Bentley's boss speculated in a column that Lantigua was "likely an illegal," which is blatantly false.
Indeed, if either Bentley or Sorchych had bothered to use this newfangled device called a "telephone," they would have found Lantigua listed, could have called her and asked her about her citizenship.
But they didn't. Nor did they apparently bother to ring County Elections Director Karen Osborne, who has explained more than once that the county recorder's office didn't consolidate the three registrations they had for Lantigua, caused when she changed her name after marrying, divorcing and later remarrying.
This willful sloppiness on the part of Bentley and her editor belies Morgan's claims that his clients' have done their Fourth Estate best.
"And, significantly, at the time the Article was published," writes Morgan, "based on our clients' reasonable diligence and investigation, our clients had no reason to believe that the facts stated in the Article were false nor did our clients consciously disregard any known truth."
Which is sort of like arguing that there's no way a weatherman could've known it was raining, because he never bothered to look outside.
Bentley's original article was not about the "accuracy of public records," as Morgan maintains above. Bentley claimed she had found evidence of "massive voter registration fraud" in the recall petitions, which she'd been reviewing with Pearce operative Constantin Querard.
Lantigua was used as Bentley's main example of same. So much for "massive" fraud.
In the passage above, Morgan mentions that "crimes" are, naturally, a matter of public concern.
But no crimes have been committed by Lantigua, and speculating that she's a lawbreaker is reprehensible, particularly in light of the fact that Osborne took ownership of the clerical error, and insists Lantigua did absolutely nothing wrong. Lantigua never voted inappropriately or signed the recall petition more than once.
Bentley even went so far as to suggest that Lantigua may have committed bigamy.
Apparently Bentley looked at the court docket under Benita's maiden name "Dorador," assuming that the two entries for divorce and family court matters there belonged to the same woman, and that Lantigua may have been "married to both men at the same time."
Yet those case files did not belong to the same woman. How do I know? I did what Bentley evidently did not do. I pulled the files from the Maricopa County Clerk of Court, finding that they belonged to two different individuals.
I caught up with Lantigua recently at the oral arguments before Superior Court Judge Hugh Hegyi concerning attorney Lisa Hauser's challenge to the recall on behalf of Pearce.
She told me the whole matter has caused her a great deal of stress as a lot of people have seen the Sonoran News' false claims about her online, including her employer, her friends and her family.
"What's really scary is that she published all this very personal information about me," Lantigua stated.
When I spoke with Lantigua, she said she felt she deserved a retraction and an apology from the Sonoran News.
Of course, I agree. It's the very least Sorchych and Bentley can do. And it would cost them a lot less than hiring Stinson Morrison Hecker.
But I won't be turning blue waiting for that retraction/apology, as honor is not a quality highly esteemed by the Sonoran News.
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