New Times files a prelude to a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, County Attorney Andy Thomas and a discredited ex-special prosecutor on behalf of its readers and the Constitution | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

New Times files a prelude to a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, County Attorney Andy Thomas and a discredited ex-special prosecutor on behalf of its readers and the Constitution

New Times submitted a formal Notice of Claim on Wednesday, February 20, against the public officials responsible for a fiasco in October that saw the attempted trampling of the First Amendment rights of this newspaper and its readers, and culminated in the jailing of its founders, Michael Lacey and Jim...
Share this:

New Times submitted a formal Notice of Claim on Wednesday, February 20, against the public officials responsible for a fiasco in October that saw the attempted trampling of the First Amendment rights of this newspaper and its readers, and culminated in the jailing of its founders, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.

The notice, required under Arizona law before government officials can be sued, paints a political landscape gone awry, with public servants turning taxpayer-supported institutions on end in defiance of the U.S. Constitution, due process, and the right of a free press to operate without intimidation.

"This is not a decision undertaken lightly," said Michael Lacey, executive editor of Village Voice Media, which owns New Times, and who, along with CEO Larkin, founded the paper. "We are not an organization, and Larkin and I are not individuals, that sue people. It's just not what we do. But I feel like if we don't do something, it's an invitation for this kind of behavior to continue."

The "behavior" to which Lacey referred was particularly chilling: a special prosecutor running amok, issuing overbroad and unconstitutional subpoenas aimed at the reading and browsing habits of citizens; a vendetta by Sheriff Joe Arpaio against New Times and its staff, the arrests of the paper's executives on petty charges in the middle of the night by members of the sheriff's clandestine Selective Enforcement Unit.

"What emerges is one of the most nakedly oppressive, conscience-shocking assaults on a free press by police and prosecutors in U.S. history," observes New Times lawyer Michael Manning in the Notice of Claim.

By law, the notice had to be filed within 180 days of the culmination of the events described here and had to contain a damages amount. New Times is asking for $15 million in damages if the matter is settled before April 15, the end of a 60-day period in which the defendants — Arpaio, Thomas and Wilenchik — must reply. "If New Times is required to pursue litigation, the settlement demand will increase," the notice warns.

Earlier in the day on which Lacey and Larkin were arrested at their homes and bundled off to jail, County Attorney Andrew Thomas' handpicked special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik essentially demanded that New Times be bankrupted.

Wilenchik had asked Superior Court Judge Anna Baca to impose crushing fines against the paper for daring to publish an October 18 story ("Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution") about his grand jury subpoenas seeking vast, detailed information about New Times' readers. For this misdemeanor, Wilenchik not only wanted the story's authors, Lacey and Larkin, and their lawyers arrested, he wanted Baca to assess fines of $10,000 for every hour that New Times refused to take the grand jury story off newspaper racks and the Internet. In the course of a year, the fines would have totaled about $90 million.

To get a better handle on the enormity of Wilenchik's demand, consider that New Times bills about $14 million annually, out of which printing, rent, supplies, salaries, benefits, and taxes must be paid.

Wilenchik's gambit was not an aberration. After his appointment as special prosecutor, he continually upped the ante in his extra-constitutional game of brinkmanship. No grand jury was ever impaneled during the affair. Rather, as Lacey observed in a subsequent column ("He Just Doesn't Get It," November 1, 2007), Wilenchik "anointed" himself the grand jury in power-mad defiance of state law. The law holds that a prosecutor must notify the grand jury foreman and the presiding judge within 10 days of issuing any subpoenas.

"Wilenchik did neither," New Times' Notice of Claim states. "The grand jury was nothing more than an empty prop to Wilenchik." Accordingly, it was not the legal system that put the brakes on this rogue prosecutor; it was a public incensed over the news of the Lacey-Larkin arrests. County Attorney Thomas, Wilenchik's former employee at the law firm of Wilenchik & Bartness, grudgingly called a press conference at his office on October 19, the day after the arrests, and fired Wilenchik as special prosecutor.

"We are not going to proceed with this investigation," stated Thomas, before a packed room of reporters. "There is a right way and a wrong way to bring a prosecution and to hold people accountable for their offenses. And what happened here was the wrong way. I do not condone it. I do not defend it. And so it ends today."

Thomas nervously hedged his mea culpa. He would not apologize to New Times, instead insisting that the newspaper apologize to Arpaio for publishing his home address online, even though Arpaio's address remains readily available on government Web sites, such as those of the Maricopa County Recorder's Office and the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Though Thomas fired Wilenchik from handling future criminal matters for the County Attorney's Office, he retained him as counsel in civil matters. As a result, Wilenchik & Bartness continues to rack up county money.

As the notice against Wilenchik and the others explains, Wilenchik's lucrative stint representing the county appears to be quid pro quo. Wilenchik employed Thomas at his law firm during the time Thomas was first running for county attorney in 2004. Yet there's no proof available that Thomas ever billed legal work for the firm. Since Thomas took office, Wilenchik's firm has banked $2.4 million — and counting — for legal work for the county.

Speaking to the New York Times, ASU legal scholar James Weinstein labeled Wilenchik's subpoenas seeking information on New Times' readers "grossly, shockingly, breathtakingly overbroad" and "a case of harassment of the press." The path to the issuance of these subpoenas was a lengthy and circuitous one.

In mid-2004, Arpaio was in the midst of a pitched and ugly primary against challenger Dan Saban, whom MCSO officers smeared with the ugly and untrue allegation that he had raped his adoptive mother, Ruby Norman. Meanwhile, New Times writer John Dougherty was making serious inquiries into various aspects of Arpaio's rule in Maricopa County. He sought public records on the Saban investigation, information on inmate deaths, personnel files on certain sheriff's deputies, and information on the sheriff's personal real estate investments.

In a July 1, 2004 column, "Sheriff Joe's Real Estate Game," Dougherty revealed that Arpaio had invested $690,000 in cash in two real estate holdings in Scottsdale and Fountain Hills. Dougherty wondered if Arpaio was hiding ill-gotten gains, because information about this commercial property was redacted under a state law aimed at protecting law enforcement officials from harm. The law was meant to allow police officers to keep their home addresses out of the public eye for obvious reasons, but Arpaio misused the statute so that it hid most information about his commercial real estate. At the same time, Arpaio's Fountain Hills home address was available on myriad public and private Internet sites.

Dougherty noted that $690,000 in cash was a lot for a public official to invest, considering that Arpaio made about $78,000 a year, along with federal Drug Enforcement Agency civil service retirement pay of about $65,000. A week later, Dougherty wrote in another column about the real estate ventures again ("Stick It to 'Em!"). At the column's conclusion, he listed Arpaio's home address to illustrate the irony of its being so readily available while his commercial property information was hidden.

Months later, New Times learned that the sheriff was seeking to have New Times prosecuted under another state law that made it unlawful to publish a law enforcement official's home address on the World Wide Web.

The law was a throwback to a time when the Internet was considered newfangled technology. While making it a Class 5 felony to reproduce such a home address on the Web, the law made no sanctions against such publication in newspapers and magazines or on TV and radio. Indeed, even putting a law officer's address on a billboard near his neighborhood would be perfectly legal.

A required element of the Internet law was that the publication of an officer's address must cause "an imminent and serious threat" that was "reasonably apparent" to the publisher.

When Arpaio first sought New Times' prosecution under the arcane statute, then-County Attorney Rick Romley declined to prosecute. There seemed to be no real threat to the sheriff — though his top deputies have been fixated on the notion that "America's toughest sheriff" could easily be the target of assassination.

It's been as though his staff believes that, without anybody trying to kill the sheriff, Arpaio's hard-on-crime policies lose credibility. So the MCSO hasn't been above manufacturing a plot to make the boss look like a tough guy.

In 1999, Arpaio and his chief deputy, David Hendershott, attempted to frame 18-year-old James Saville in a phony bomb plot supposedly aimed at Arpaio ("The Plot to Assassinate Arpaio," August 5, 1999). TV reporters were called ahead of time to chronicle the teenager's arrest outside an Italian restaurant where Arpaio was dining. Saville's lawyer noted the obvious entrapment, and Saville was unanimously acquitted by a jury after the MCSO's unscrupulous antics were aired in court.

Last year, the Sheriff's Office revealed that it had spent an estimated $500,000 investigating a bogus death threat that involved such highly improbable co-conspirators as the Minutemen, immigrants rights activist Elias Bermudez, and hit men working for the Mexican mafia. On the word of a confidential informant who failed a key question on a lie-detector test about whether or not he was telling the truth about the alleged conspiracy, the sheriff's Selective Enforcement Unit (the same group that nabbed Lacey and Larkin) staked out a dairy in Tolleson and flew to Connecticut to interrogate a teenage girl whose e-mail was linked to the pseudo-scheme.

Most recently, the MCSO trumpeted the conviction of Matthew Carl Sanderson, a native of Canada, for making an Internet threat against Arpaio. The sheriff flew to Toronto for the three-day trial. In the end, Sanderson received just three months of incarceration.

"There has never been any credible evidence of death threats against our Sheriff," attorney Manning states in New Times' notice. "Indeed, the only 'death threats' to Sheriff Arpaio have been made-for-TV productions procured or created by the Sheriff's sizable PR staff."

Arpaio's obsession with such dubious threats would be comic if not for their dire, costly, and time-consuming consequences.

Though Romley would not touch the sheriff's desired prosecution of New Times, Arpaio refused to let the matter drop. When County Attorney Thomas took office, he had a political ally, and again he asked for the legal action. Thomas, however, had already borne the brunt of critical articles in New Times by the time the complaint reached his desk so he handed it off to Pinal County, citing a conflict of interest.

After two years, Pinal County returned the matter to Thomas last spring. As Manning put it in New Times' notice, "the Pinal County Attorney's Office did not share the Defendants' passion for political revenge."

This time, despite Thomas' already-declared conflict, he appointed his friend Dennis Wilenchik as special prosecutor in the New Times matter.

A lawyer who had made his name in toxic-mold litigation, Wilenchik was known for his bull-in-a-china shop approach to civil law. He used the same tactics against the new objects of his prosecutorial zeal.

As Lacey and Larkin revealed in the grand jury subpoena article, Wilenchik demanded "every note, tape, and record from every story written about Sheriff Arpaio by every [New Times] reporter over a period of years."

Acting on his own (remember, no grand jury ever existed in the matter), Wilenchik hit New Times, as well as reporters John Dougherty and Paul Rubin individually, with subpoenas.

Rubin's personal subpoena was especially egregious, as it sought everything Rubin had used to write his cover story "Below the Belt" (September 20, 2007), which documented Buckeye Police Chief Dan Saban's failed lawsuit against Arpaio for the 2004 smear involving his adoptive mother. Wilenchik defended Arpaio in the case, and his unsavory out-of-court activities were criticized in the article. The Rubin subpoena, sent the day after New Times published the article, sought records that had nothing to do with the home-address matter.

"Rubin's only 'misstep' was in criticizing Arpaio and Wilenchik," reads New Times' notice. "His story was not even remotely relevant to the matter Wilenchik had been hired to pursue (a 2004 story Rubin did not author).

"In the column disclosing the profound corruption of the investigation that led to their arrest, Lacey and Larkin succinctly summarized what was all too clear: 'It is impossible to view Rubin's subpoena as anything other than what it was: an act of vengeance.'"

Wilenchik also demanded in overarching subpoenas sent to New Times and to Dougherty all information on New Times' online readers from 2004 to 2007, including IP addresses, browsing habits, cookies, and domain names. Wilenchik had cast a wide, unprecedented dragnet. The targets were not just journalists and publishers, but readers and anyone who had pointed their Web browser toward New Times' Web site.

But it took something else to push Lacey and Larkin to write "Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution." It took Wilenchik's attempt to establish ex parte communications with Judge Anna Baca, who presides over county grand juries. Wilenchik telephoned political fixer Carol Turoff, a recent two-term member of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, and asked her to set up a meeting with the judge, a close friend. Turoff's spouse, Larry Turoff, is a senior member of County Attorney Thomas' management team.

Carol Turoff's late-night call to Baca did not sit well with the judge. She called the stab at a behind-the scenes conversation "absolutely inappropriate."

But the mold-litigation specialist was unbowed by even a presiding judge's admonition. After all, he had just emerged from a battle with another powerful Superior Court judge.

He had publicly attacked Judge Timothy Ryan, an associate presiding criminal judge, as part of Andy Thomas' assault on the local judiciary. Thomas was annoyed over certain judges' failure to deny bail to illegal aliens in Proposition 100 cases. He was particularly miffed at Judge Ryan, whom Wilenchik termed a "danger to public safety." Incredibly, Wilenchik asked Ryan to recuse himself from all cases brought by Thomas' office. Also, he sought the recusal of all 93 Superior Court judges on the question of whether Ryan should step aside.

The move failed, but Wilenchik was emboldened. So much so that he asked for the secret meeting with Baca while the New Times case was pending.

Lacey and Larkin felt that the pugnacious lawyer's flagrant disregard of the rules left them no choice but to engage in their act of civil disobedience.

"Publishing the terms of a grand jury subpoena is a minor misdemeanor," observes Manning in the notice, referring to Lacey and Larkin's article on the subpoenas. "The statute was designed primarily to [protect] witnesses, targets of investigation and others from negative publicity.' It was not designed to insulate from public disclosure by a newspaper [the] unethical and unlawful behavior of a prosecutor who is misusing the grand jury to attack the newspaper, its reporters, and its readers' right to privacy."

The retort of Wilenchik and the MCSO was swift. The same day that Lacey and Larkin dropped their bombshell, Wilenchik filed an Application for Order to Show Cause, demanding that the two New Times executives and their lawyers be placed in custody, and that New Times be slapped with the staggering fines mentioned above.

The MCSO and Wilenchik's office collaborated on the evening arrests of the paper's founders for writing "Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution." Larkin got the worst of it. With his children in the house, he was hauled away in handcuffs in an unmarked car bearing Sonoran plates. The Selective Enforcement Unit even threatened to arrest Larkin's wife when she demanded that they show proper identification. Lacey was collared in front of his girlfriend and taken to the Fourth Avenue Jail. He was released at 4 the next morning.

Before a gaggle of television, radio, and print reporters, Lacey said after his release, "We're being arrested for raising hell. It's sort of a tradition journalism has."

A tsunami of public outrage followed. Outlets as varied as, the New York Times, Reason magazine, the Washington Post, and reported on the arrests. The Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts weighed in on the side of the arrestees, as did the Goldwater Institute's Clint Bolick, who wrote, "Regardless of one's ordinary proclivities regarding the players involved, there is only one place for friends of freedom to stand at the moment: shoulder-to-shoulder with the New Times."

In County Attorney Thomas' capitulation 10 hours after Lacey's release, he claimed to have had no prior knowledge of the arrests. After firing Wilenchik as special prosecutor for criminal matters, he quashed the subpoenas and ended the investigation of New Times.

So who did order the arrests? When asked that question, Wilenchik wrote in an e-mail to New Times, "Don't know. If I find out, will be back."

But MCSO public information officer Paul Chagolla told the Associated Press that "the arrests came at the requests of the prosecutor." Confronted with Wilenchik's slippery e-mail, Chagolla got more specific, informing New Times that MCSO detectives worked with attorneys William French and Rob Somers of Wilenchik's firm. French, a former prosecutor and judge, later resigned after the fallout from the arrests ("Dennis the Menace," December 27, 2007). In subsequent interviews, French pinned the responsibility for the arrests on Wilenchik.

"Somers told me that Wilenchik said, 'No more Mr. Nice Guy. We're going to arrest them.' That's what happened," French intoned to the Arizona Republic.

In New Times' notice, Manning puts the arrests into their legal context:

"Misdemeanor violations that do not threaten lives are usually handled by the issuance of citations, not by [Selective Enforcement Unit] raids, arrests, handcuffs, and jail cells in the dead of night. Responsible prosecutors know these circumstances would never justify such conduct."

Sheriff Arpaio's office has never expressed any misgivings about its dealings with New Times, much less over the arrests of Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.

The outright obstinacy of the MCSO in providing public information has forced New Times to do battle with Arpaio and his officers for the past 15 years.

Time-consuming legal remedies, such as New Times' current notice, seem the only possible remedy when dealing with a Sheriff's Office bent on keeping information that might reflect badly on Arpaio secret from the public.

This newspaper's recent appellate court win regarding numerous public-records requests submitted by writer John Dougherty to the MCSO in 2004 illustrates the MCSO's hostility in dealing with not just New Times but any news media outlet that criticizes Arpaio or the actions of his office.

This publication was forced to sue in 2004 because the Sheriff's Office refused to comply with Arizona's public-records law and release the information that Dougherty had requested. The MCSO forked over the documents only after the suit was filed. New Times then sought legal fees from Arpaio's office. Though a Superior Court judge denied the request in 2005, New Times appealed.

On February 5, the three-judge Arizona Court of Appeals assessed nine of Dougherty's requests individually, finding in all but one that New Times was wrongfully denied access to public records. In eight instances, the appeals court found the excuses of MCSO public information officers Lisa Allen MacPherson and Paul Chagolla to be unconvincing.

Take for instance a request by Dougherty for the personnel file for MCSO Sergeant Leo Driving Hawk. The MCSO acknowledged that it had the documents when Dougherty made the request, but MacPherson said she didn't read the request very carefully, and offered that as an excuse for not providing the documents promptly, as well as the fact that she was angry with Dougherty.

The appeals court's response to MacPherson's evasions was stinging.

"If mere inattention by the employee of a public body could meet that body's burden of establishing that it promptly provided documents, and thus that a request was not wrongfully delayed or denied, it would turn on its head the core purpose of the public-records law," wrote the court, adding, "If public entities could be excused from providing public records merely by being inattentive to requests, then access to the records would be easily frustrated."

Ultimately, the appeals court vacated the lower court's judgment and remanded the case back to it for a decision on whether New Times is entitled to recover the attorneys' fees.

This ruling is significant because the MCSO obstructed New Times every step of the way. It refused to comply with the state public-records law, treated reporter Dougherty and other New Times journalists with contempt, and forced New Times to go to court to get the records to which it is entitled. In addition, the MCSO continues to bar New Times from attending press conferences and continues to prohibit its reporters from going to the Sheriff's Office to pick up public records.

Dougherty made several public-records requests to the MCSO in 2004. They included requests for documents on the smear Arpaio's officers perpetrated against Dan Saban, Arpaio's rival for the 2004 Republican nomination; for records on a proposed fish pond to be constructed near Tent City; for MCSO financial records from the jail canteen and vending machines; for personnel files on certain MCSO employees and for records on deceased inmates.

But in defiance of the public-records law — which plainly states that the custodians of public records must "promptly furnish such copies, printouts or photographs" to all citizens who ask for them — the sheriff's media machine stonewalled Dougherty. That resulted in the reporter's confronting Arpaio during a public post-election event, asking when the sheriff would turn over the lawfully requested information.

Arpaio had Dougherty dragged away by Selective Enforcement Unit deputies, suggesting to one of his men that the writer's mere question could be considered a threat.

Days before this incident, Dougherty ran into MCSO spokeswoman MacPherson outside a downtown rally for Arpaio opponent Saban. He queried her as to when New Times might get the records. "Never," MacPherson told Dougherty. When Dougherty asked why, she informed him that the MCSO did not regard New Times as a legitimate newspaper. Dougherty replied that under the state public-records law, any citizen can request such records from the MCSO. "So sue us!" MacPherson challenged.

New Times had no choice but to go to court.

Three years later, the appeals court's February 5 ruling revealed the MCSO's pattern of obstructing news organizations critical of Arpaio from obtaining public information. It was mentioned in the appellate court's decision that MacPherson admitted it took her 108 days to produce 11 pages of documents, and that when Dougherty requested information on an inmate death in the jails, she misinformed him there had been no death on the date and that she never bothered to clear up the confusion when she learned otherwise.

In a recent item on New Times' appellate court win in the Arizona Republic, Jack MacIntyre, another of Arpaio's flacks, was quoted as saying that MacPherson had acted the way she did because of a personality conflict with Dougherty. He said certain "steps" were taken to avoid such future conflicts.

In light of this statement, New Times put in a public-records request with MCSO flack Chagolla, asking for documentation of the "steps" mentioned by MacIntyre.

Chagolla advised that no such public records existed. He then warned ominously that the MCSO might be contemplating charging John Dougherty with a crime.

"I will forward a document detailing two assaults committed upon me by former New Times reporter John Dougherty," stated Chagolla in an e-mail. (Dougherty left the paper in August 2006.) "I am aware that the New Times knows of these assaults, as they were brought up in deposition. I will also seek out the Channel 3 televised coverage of Dougherty poking me with his recorder during the second incident. Please note the statute of limitations has not expired on the assault."

Chagolla is referring to the night that Arpaio had Dougherty thrown out of his political event because the reporter asked him a question. Chagolla is alleging that a reporter holding up a tape recorder to a public servant constitutes an "assault."

In the past, Chagolla has said there would be "legal consequences" if New Times reporters dared to pick up public documents at MCSO offices in the Wells Fargo building downtown. When reporter Ray Stern disagreed with MCSO lawyer Michelle Iafrate in her law offices over whether he could photograph public records, Iafrate complained to the MCSO. This sparked a "disorderly conduct" citation getting delivered to Stern by the Selective Enforcement Unit in the same nighttime spree that netted Lacey and Larkin.

Other reporters also have been bullied by MCSO deputies, as have Arpaio's political rivals and citizens daring to oppose him or his officers. The history of this ongoing abuse of power is detailed in  Sarah Fenske's "Enemies List" (November 29, 2007) segment of New Times' "Target Practice" series.

In that article, Fenske described how anyone who crosses the sheriff, or even happens to work for someone who opposes Arpaio, could find themselves the subject of an unwarranted investigation, have their assets and computers seized, and even be arrested on trumped-up charges that never go to trial. Anyone from a politician aiming to replace Arpaio as sheriff (like Dan Saban) to a graphic designer working for local Democrats to a tow-truck operator loyal to the GOP could find themselves in the MCSO's crosshairs.

Raids can be timed to slander an enemy and his business, as happened with erstwhile Arpaio-supporter Lee Watkins. Watkins backed local radio personality W. Steven Martin over Arpaio in the 2004 general election. Then, his business, Cactus Towing, was raided in 2005, with computers, cell phones, and records seized as evidence. The raid came at the end of the month, when Watkins' business normally billed expenses. Watkins was ruined. No charges were ever filed.

In 2000, Jim Cozzolino managed the campaign of an Arpaio opponent. Arpaio's deputies sorted through his trash and tapped his phone, but nothing came of it. Still Arpaio held his grudge, and in 2003, when Cozzolino stepped in to protect a woman who was being assaulted at the bowling alley Cozzolino operated, deputies popped him for attempted murder and seized his car. Cozzolino plea-bargained, pleaded guilty to illegal discharge of a firearm, and got four months in jail. Deputies set up Cozzolino on a drug charge while he was incarcerated. He beat that rap and ended up suing Arpaio, who later settled for an undisclosed amount.

Or take the case of Nick Tarr, falsely arrested in 2002 while portraying "Joe Arizona" in a lighthearted spoof of the sheriff sponsored by backers of a ballot initiative opposed by Arpaio. Tarr had the bad luck to walk into a restaurant where Chief Deputy David Hendershott was eating. Hendershott wanted to charge him with impersonating a DPS officer. The DPS wanted no part of it, but Hendershott had his men hold Tarr and cite him. The MCSO dropped the complaint against Tarr, whose lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office is scheduled to go to trial this year.

The list goes on.

"These and many other incidents show that the Defendants' actions against the New Times in this case were more than the aberrational consequence of simple neglect," Manning observes in the notice. "They were the product of a long-standing pattern and practice of the abuse of power against dissenting voices — of intentional, punitive and retaliatory conduct against the New Times, its reporters, and its readers."

This is the same sheriff's administration that has cost the county $43.4 million in lawsuit payouts and insurance premiums because of wrongful deaths and injuries in Arpaio's jails.

Yet the sheriff and his underlings appear indifferent to atrocities in MCSO jails, to the financial burden they impose on county taxpayers, and to the international embarrassment they cause Maricopa County. Amnesty International, which usually chastises Third World dictatorships, cited deplorable conditions in Arpaio's lockups after a 1997 investigation.

As New Times writer John Dickerson reported in "Inhumanity Has a Price" (December 20, 2007), "With a fraction of the inmate population, Arpaio has had 50 times as many lawsuits as the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston jail systems combined." Since Dickerson wrote the article — which warns of MRSA staph infections in Arpaio's jails and describes the horror of a pregnant mother bleeding incessantly and losing her child while one of Arpaio's prisoners — the payout figure (which was $41.4 million) has climbed another $2 million.

In the face of such persistent, institutionalized cruelty and spitefulness toward anyone who disagrees with the MCSO, Michael Lacey believes New Times' notice is also about preservation of the Fourth Estate. He argues that not just New Times, but all Maricopa County media, are threatened by Arpaio's administration — particularly because the County Attorney's Office provides no check on the sheriff's power.

"These people just don't understand boundaries," Lacey said of Arpaio and his officers. "They don't understand the Constitution. It's a fine comment on where we've come in the community when this sort of action on our part is necessary. But we actually believe it is necessary."

Lacey added: "I hope it keeps [the MCSO] off our throats. And I hope it keeps it off the backs of the media, in general."

Michael Manning offers an eloquent appraisal of New Times' case against Wilenchik, Arpaio, and Thomas in the claim notice:

"The facts known, thus far, demonstrate a disturbing picture of muscle-bound police and prosecutorial abuse. The corrupt perversion of the law to attack a newspaper, its reporters, and the privacy rights of thousands of its readers. When fair criticism of these public officials became too piercing for them to tolerate, they flexed their political muscle in the form of a conspiracy.

"They abused their governmental authority by attacking the press, punishing free speech, demeaning the role and function of an impartial prosecutor and an independent judiciary, perverting the grand jury function, and serving notice to citizens who read news online that neither their identities nor their reading habits are safe from the reach of a vindictive government."

Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.