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Arpaio's Office Loses Again in Tucson Citizen Public Records Case; Must Pay Lawyer's Fees

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's refusal to turn over public records as required by the law has once again cost taxpayers.

The Arizona Supreme Court announced today it would not consider a 2007 case between the  Tucson Citizen and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. That means an appeals court ruling from December, which requires the Sheriff's Office to pay more than $25,000 in legal fees, will stand.

You'd think the public would get tired of such rulings, but Arpaio's re-election in 2008 means taxpayers will be propping up the sheriff's closed-door approach to records for a few more years. (Perhaps the lost court cases are having an effect, though -- we have to admit that the office seems to be responding to records requests faster these days).

The defunct Tucson newspaper's battle with the sheriff's office began after a squabble between the Sheriff Arpaio and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard over a criminal gambling case that included a multi-million-dollar seizure (a.k.a. payday) for the sheriff's office. For background, see the articles posted by the gambling site, www.majorwager.com. The records in question gave an insight into the workings of inter-governmental relations -- showing how ugly they could get. For instance, in a letter obtained by reporters, Dennis Wilenchik, the ethically challenged Phoenix attorney who was behind the dirty "grand jury" investigation of New Times, accuses Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall of using a "journalistic plant" to make Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas look bad.

Ironically, the sheriff's office is now attempting to play public records crusader, suing Maricopa County in a bid to force county officials to turn over public records.

Taxpayers could have saved tens of thousands of dollars if only the sheriff's office had taken on this new attitude a few years ago.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.