Feathered Bastard

AZ ACLU honors New Times founders Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey as Civil Libertarians of the Year.

New Times founders Mike Lacey (left) and Jim Larkin (right) at the AZ ACLU awards dinner.

On Saturday, Village Voice Media Executive Editor Mike Lacey and VVM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Larkin were each honored by the ACLU Foundation of Arizona with the group's highest accolade, the Civil Libertarian of the Year Award. Trophies were handed out during the AZ ACLU's annual Bill of Rights Dinner before a crowd of over 200 guests in the Heard Museum's Steele Auditorium.

John Hay, Past President of the ACLU Foundation of Arizona, made the presentation, explaining that the arrests of New Times' founders this past October following the publication of illegal and overbroad grand jury subpoenas in their double-bylined cover story, "Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution," earned the pair their plaudits.

"So we now have the specter of the County Attorney and the Sheriff conspiring to put New Times out of business," stated Hay during his address, "and using the criminal system, and I won’t call it the criminal justice system as long as those people are in charge…to prevent people from exercising their civil liberties. And what did our honorees do about that? They put their persons, their families and their business at risk."

Hay pointed out that the events of last fall were only the latest in a long line of actions defending civil liberties by New Times and its owners.

"We honor them for what they’ve done for civil liberties," declared Hay. "And the excuse we’re using is what happened this fall when they faced down the Sheriff and the County Attorney. But they have in fact been defending civil liberties now for at least 38 years. So it is my pleasure to present these awards, which I think are slightly wrong. This says Civil Libertarian of the Year. I present these awards to Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin for being Civil Libertarians of the past four decades."

Lacey and Larkin received a standing ovation from the attendees. Both VVM executives then made remarks, with Lacey making the keynote speech of the evening. Larkin spoke first, noting that the conflict with Sheriff Joe Arpaio was far from over.

"We are prepared for the fight with Mr. Arpaio," he promised, "a thug with guns whom we have seen [variations] of many times in the past 38 years of our publishing experience. He is a bully, pure and simple…and at Village Voice Media we are prepared, as all of us should be tonight, to resist him."

Lacey followed his partner at the podium, beginning his remarks by praising his fellow newspaperman.

"It is expected, after four decades, that the writers of New Times and the editors at New Times would do something like publish the secret grand jury proceedings and say fuck you to Joe Arpaio," Lacey stated. "What is not expected is that a publisher, my partner Jim Larkin, would put his name on that byline with me and that we would sit down together to jointly put that in writing."

The VVM executive editor linked the abuses perpetrated by Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas against Mexican immigrants to the trampling of journalists' constitutional rights, remembering the words of German anti-Nazi theologian Pastor Martin Niemöller.

"By the time the authorities came after our newspaper’s readers [in the form of a subpoena seeking information on their online reading habits], law enforcement no longer concerned themselves with an indignant public," observed Lacey. "There simply was no indignant public. And so the familiar words of Pastor Niemöller took on new gravity here in Phoenix, Arizona: `When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent, because I was not a communist. Then they came for the sick, the so called incurables, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t mentally ill. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.'

"Today," Lacey added solemnly, "They’ve come for the Mexicans."

Lacey concluded his address by announcing a $10,000 donation to the AZ ACLU for the defense of Hispanic immigrants. He also invoked the iconoclastic irreverence of Mad Magazine and Carl Banks' Donald Duck as models for skewering authoritarian figures such as Sheriff Joe.

Afterwards, the ACLU recognized one of its own, Bill Wootten, as Volunteer of the Year. The audience was then entertained by Native American hoop dancers, quite appropriate considering the venue. Congrats to both Lacey and Larkin. It's hard for me to imagine working at another place where defiance of authority is so encouraged from the top down as it is by these two here at New Times. Unless, perhaps, you're talking about Mad Magazine during its heyday.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons