Longform

Head on a skewer: Joe Arpaio was so obsessed with getting a hard-charging New Times writer prosecuted that he badgered Andy Thomas into making a fool of himself

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"During that meeting," Lebowitz wrote to Olson afterward, "you raised arguments of insecurity and uncertainty which were identical to the kinds of arguments brought out in our previous meeting held in your office on November 15, 2005. The arguments which you have raised to justify your indefensible inclination to remain in a state of paralysis regarding the Dougherty matter have not improved with time. They do not age well, as if they are like some spirituous beverage. In short, your reasons for not going ahead with a prosecution, particularly against John Dougherty, remain feeble at best and craven at worst."

Lebowitz noted that Arpaio earlier had given Olson "a ten-day deadline on which to take action, and even though you promised thereafter to proceed against New Times, nothing further has occurred . . . this is intolerable. The [Sheriff's Office] must make some public statement regarding the threat and the prosecution's failure to take corrective action."

But despite the continual pressure, Carter Olson held his ground.

On August 31, 2006, John Dougherty wrote his final story as a New Times staff writer ("Vaya Con Dios"), a first-person column in which he spoke of honing "the art of attack journalism" at the paper.

"Attack journalism inevitably leads to confrontation with powerful interests," he wrote. "That is why the in-your-face, irreverent, counter-intuitive, fuck-'em-all attitude at New Times was the place for a guy like me."

Dougherty concluded that, even though he was moving on, Joe Arpaio "will never be free with New Times around."

Shortly after that article appeared, Lebowitz again wrote to Olson, saying that "Mr. Dougherty, through his most recent article, is encouraging New Times to go forward and, whenever and wherever possible, do even worse against the sheriff in the future as, if you will, a part of Dougherty's legacy."

As 2006 ended, Lebowitz may not have known it, but he finally seemed to be wearing Olson down.

On December 14, 2006, the county attorney wrote to New Times attorney Suskin that "the state of Arizona has drawn a line that the New Times appears to have crossed."

Olson offered the paper an out, saying he would settle the case without a criminal prosecution if it would remove the sheriff's home address from its Web site, admit the 1999 law was valid, and not violate it anymore. He added that if New Times believed the law to be unconstitutional, it should seek a court injunction to stop any further action on the matter.

New Times responded in its newsprint edition by publishing a Christmas card to Arpaio on its front cover, addressed to the sheriff's Fountain Hills home. It keyed to a column in which the paper explained that it couldn't, in good conscience, accept Olson's deal ("Joe Strikes Back," December 21, 2006).

A few months into the New Year, Carter Olson won appointment to the Pinal Superior Court bench, and that county's Board of Supervisors chose Jim Walsh to replace him. Citing his conflict of interest, Walsh tossed the hot potato back to Thomas.

On July 11, 2007, Team Wilenchik came onboard at Thomas' behest to potentially bust John Dougherty and, possibly, New Times, as a corporate entity.

It was almost three years to the day since Dougherty had written the column containing Arpaio's home address.

Things were just beginning to get interesting.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin