New Times founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were honored as Civil Libertarians of the Year by the ACLU Foundation of Arizona at the organization's banquet on Saturday, March 29.
The American Civil Liberties Union gave its top award to Lacey and Larkin, executive editor and CEO of Village Voice Media, respectively, because of a story the two wrote last October about unreasonable grand jury subpoenas leveled at this newspaper, its journalists, and its readers ("Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution," October 18, 2007). The subpoenas, issued by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, sought detailed information not only about the newspaper's writers and editors but also about its readers' Internet-viewing habits.
The action by special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik came out of an investigation of New Times over the paper's publishing of Arpaio's home address on its Web site in a column about the sheriff's suspicious personal real estate deals. The publication was an apparent violation of an arcane state law shielding such information. The sheriff had harangued County Attorney Andrew Thomas into the investigation, even though there was no evidence of any threat as a result of the publication, and despite the fact that the address was available all along on myriad Internet sites.
Once the story appeared, Lacey and Larkin were arrested at their homes in the middle of the night by members of the sheriff's Selective Enforcement Unit. The arrests generated public outrage locally and nationally, and both had been released by the next day when Thomas held a press conference to announce that charges of grand jury disclosure had been dropped against the two executives and that the investigation of New Times had ended.
Thomas also fired Wilenchik (his friend and former employer) as special prosecutor, though he has kept the private attorney on the county payroll to handle civil matters involving Arpaio.
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In accepting the award, both Lacey and Larkin praised the ACLU for its work; Lacey announced a $10,000 donation to the Arizona ACLU for the defense of Hispanic immigrants.