New Times Founders Helping Fund Latino Program at ASU Journalism School

The co-founders of Phoenix New Times are giving a $2 million gift to Arizona State University's journalism school to support a new program focused on coverage of Latino and borderlands issues.

Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, the New Times founders, are using proceeds from their lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to establish a Chair in Borderlands Issues at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Lacey and Larkin won a $3.75 million settlement last year for their false arrests in 2007 -- arrests that were orchestrated by Arpaio.

Lacey and Larkin say their gift to ASU stems from their "outrage at the way Mexican immigrants, in particular, have been treated by the sheriff's office."

"We are living under a lawman who has been convicted of racially profiling Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in this community and is currently facing contempt charges," Lacey says. "We are living in a state where the head of education has canceled Chicano studies in the city of Tucson. We are living in a state where the governor thinks it's appropriate to deny driver's licenses to young kinds because they were brought across the border by their parents . . . In this environment, this is a small counter weight to that level of bigotry and stupidity."

See also: -New Times Co-Founders Win $3.75 Million Settlement for 2007 False Arrests -Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution

Lacey and Larkin say students in the program will report, write, and produce stories that will be distributed in English and Spanish to professional media outlets, in addition to the Cronkite News website and Arizona PBS newscasts.

"Traditionally, journalism schools have done very little in coverage of Latinos, and border coverage, and virtually nothing, quite frankly, in the area of bilingual journalism education," says Cronkite school dean Christopher Callahan.

The J-school program will include three full-time professors, including current professor Rick Rodriguez, plus the Lacey-Larkin funded chair, and another professor yet to be named.

The newspaper executives, who were the longtime owners of the nationwide chain of alternative newsweeklies known as Village Voice Media (now known as Voice Media Group under new ownership), were arrested at their homes in the middle of the night in 2007 and jailed on misdemeanor charges alleging that they violated the secrecy of a grand jury -- which turned out never to have been convened.

The saga began in 2004, when then-New Times reporter John Dougherty dug into Arpaio's commercial real estate transactions, questioning how a county sheriff could amass so much cash to invest in property and why records of the transactions were hidden from public view.

As part of Dougherty's articles, Arpaio's home address was published, as it was easily available online, including on government websites. The point was that Arpaio had hidden records of his commercial property but hadn't done so for his actual home.

After Andrew Thomas took office as Maricopa County Attorney, Arpaio requested charges against New Times for revealing his home address, based on an arcane state statute that bars publishing such information on the Internet if there's a "timely threat" to an officer of the law.

Because Arpaio waited 10 months to call for an investigation, a County Attorney's Office panel declined to prosecute, since no threat had presented itself. The Pinal County Attorney's Office later also declined to prosecute, citing lack of evidence and First Amendment implications.

However, 2 1/2 years after New Times published the sheriff's address, Arpaio and Thomas collaborated to appoint Phoenix attorney Dennis Wilenchik as a "special prosecutor" to go after the paper.

He issued grand jury subpoenas for the notes, records, and sources of the paper's reporters and editors for all Arpaio-related stories over a broad period of time, as well as for the IP addresses of New Times' readers of such stories.

Later, Superior Court Judge Anna Baca, who presided over county grand juries at the time, chided Wilenchik for trying to arrange a secret meeting with her about the case.

Faced with all of this, Lacey and Larkin wrote a cover story detailing what they called a "breathtaking abuse of the constitution."

Arpaio's deputies arrested them the night the story was published on charges of violating grand jury secrecy -- alleged misdemeanor violations that normally don't spark nighttime arrests at suspects' homes.

The next day, after widespread public outrage, Thomas announced that Wilenchik was dismissed as special prosecutor and that the investigation was over. Judge Baca later declared that Wilenchik's grand jury subpoenas were invalid, since he'd issued them without notice or approval from a grand jury or from the court.

Arpaio and Wilenchik eventually sought immunity from Lacey and Larkin's lawsuit, but that didn't happen, leading to the settlement approved last year by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Thomas escaped potential liability because of protection his county attorney post afforded him when the episode occurred.

"Unlike most of Arpaio's victims, we had the financial wherewithal to defend ourselves in court, and we were able to speak through the newspaper," Lacey and Larkin said after winning the settlement. "But the vulnerable and impoverished victims of Arpaio's ongoing abusive practices have neither the money nor the voice to fight back."

The men vowed to use the money to "help those who fight the good fight against government actors who attack the most vulnerable among us," and specifically mentioned contributions to the Arizona ACLU, the Florence Project, Puente, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley