Joe Arpaio Foes Score: Acquitted Activists Win Legal Fees from County Attorney

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Call it the cost of clapping. Five anti-Arpaio activists were awarded legal fees Monday by Justice of the Peace C. Steven McMurry in a case that involved four of them being arrested for applauding at a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors' meeting in December 2008.

The five activists -- from the groups ACORN and Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability -- were acquitted in September after a day and a half of the County Attorney's office presenting its case. At the time, McMurry blasted the CA's office for even bringing charges of disorderly conduct, and found the five not guilty without troubling to hear the defense.

In September, McMurry stated that the defendants' First Amendment rights had been violated by MCSO deputies, who arrested four of the activists rather than letting them address the Supes when called to the podium by then BOS Chairman Andy Kunasek. Those arrested and booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail were ACORN organizers and members Monica Sandschafer, Kristy Theilen, Joel Nelson, and Jason Odhner.

The fifth activist, MCSA's Raquel Teran, was later cited by the MCSO for applauding, even though applause is not prohibited by the BOS at its meetings. She was lucky. Her four colleagues ended up spending ten hours in custody while being processed.

Following the acquittals, McMurry asked both the prosecution and the defense to submit opinions as to whether or not he could award lawyers' fees. Yesterday, the JP issued a scathing order in favor of the defense, going so far as to agree with Kristy Theilen's description of the arresting offficer -- MCSO Sgt. Acritelli -- as a "fascist."

"Deputy Acritelli," writes McMurry, "communicates that he believes it is his role to make uncomfortable anyone who [expresses] views that disagree with the sheriff. Were he to be candid, he would probably acknowledge being somewhat proud of it. This is not a very significant factor for purposes of the decision this Court must make. It does, however, tend to justify Ms. Theilen's epithet."

I only saw a portion of the trial, such as it was, though I did get to see Acritelli on the stand. Belligerent and unapologetic, he exited the courtroom in a huff after being dismissed. As I watched him tromp red-faced into the hall, it occurred to me that he had the look of a man ready to kick the first dog he came across.

"This is such an extreme case," McMurry noted in his conclusion, "with sheriff's deputies trampling on the First Amendment and being aided and abetted by the County Attorney. It has to stop.

"Accordingly, this court shall award the defendants their attorney's fees. The defendants are directed to promptly submit itemized affidavits supporting the specific amounts requested."

You can read McMurry's order, here. When I find out the final tab for the legal expenses, I'll post it. After all, we the taxpayers are the ones who'll be paying it, just as we do for all the stupidities of the MCSO and the County Attorney's office.

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