As if you needed another example of how Maricopa County's run like a banana republic, there's the case of this catbird's colleague Ray Stern. You see, Stern also got a knock on the door by MCSO thugs on the same night that Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were busted.
Reporter Stern was cited, not collared. But the charge against him stands. If he's found guilty, he could face six months in lockup and $2,500 in fines.
Technically, he's been charged with disorderly conduct, a Class 1 misdemeanor. But in reality, he's being harassed for taking digital pics of public docs.
Allow this avian to explain: 'Til the county attorney ended the grand jury inquiry into New Times, MCSO flack Paul Chagolla wouldn't allow New Times reporters to visit MCSO offices to view public docs.
New Times scribes had to hoof it to the law offices of Iafrate & Associates, headed by barrister Michele Iafrate, who reps the MCSO in some matters, just as attorney Dennis Wilenchik still does in others. Only at Iafrate's bungalow office near Second Avenue and McKinley Street was a New Times reporter able to review public documents requested from the MCSO.
Stern asked to review all e-mails between the MCSO and the media for the month of August. Eventually, Chagolla told Stern that about half of those were ready to be perused at Iafrate & Associates. If he'd want any copies, they'd be 50 cents a page. At Iafrate's law office, he was taken to a conference room and given a doorstop of docs to look over, with law clerk Cari Shehorn there to observe him as he did so.
Stern whipped out his digital camera and began snapping pics of printouts, many of which were MCSO press releases. Shehorn told him he had to stop or leave, that the public-records law didn't allow him to take pics. Stern demanded Iafrate herself give him the legal justification for stopping him from inspecting the printouts.
Iafrate entered the room, and she and Stern had words.
"Iafrate said her interpretation of the law was that I couldn't take photographs, that I could only view records," sang Stern to this swallow. "I said, 'If your interpretation of that law is that I'm prohibited from taking photographs, then you must not know the law.'"
Iafrate asked Stern to leave, and he left.
"I never yelled," said Stern of the verbal rumpus. "How can it be illegal for a reporter to assert a point of public-records law with a lawyer in a law office?"
That night, Stern got his visit from two MCSO plainclothes officers with his disorderly conduct citation. Iafrate and her legal lackeys claimed that Stern had raised his voice and disrupted the delicate Iafrate sanctum.
"[The deputies] said, 'We're here to have you sign this [citation] so we don't have to take you to jail,'" recounted Stern.
Iafrate didn't return this winged wordsmith's calls, so she wasn't able to explain away this trumped-up complaint. Anyone who knows Stern knows the fella's not unreasonable. This canary doesn't believe for a sec that Ray disturbed the peace.
All the experts this ibis asked tended to agree with Stern about the camera issue. There's nothing in the public-records law that says you can't snap digital pics, or any other kind of pics of documents.
"I would be fascinated by what they think the legal basis is for prohibiting you from taking a photograph," commented Dan Barr, attorney for the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona. "There is none. What the public-records law allows you to do is inspect, and there's no difference between using a camera or taking notes verbally or with a pencil or a pen or whatever."
Even former County Attorney Rick Romley thinks Iafrate's full of it on this one.
"Generally, the public-records law makes those records totally available," offered the former prosecutor. "They can be photocopied, which implies that you can take a picture of them digitally."
If that's all there were to this matter, that one episode would be bad enough. But the following week, when Chagolla informed Stern that the remainder of his public-records request was ready, Chagolla told Stern he'd have to look at it at the Fourth Avenue Jail. There, Stern was forced to relinquish his camera, tape recorder, cell phone, even his pens. He was led past prisoners being booked and through a metal detector, like a common criminal.
"I asked Paul why he was taking me here to inspect public records," recalled Stern. "I told him that it could be considered an intimidation tactic. He said, 'Oh, no, we take media back here occasionally.' But that was clearly not true. The deputies booking the prisoners were shocked to see us back there. In fact, they asked Chagolla who he was. He said, 'I'm Paul Chagolla. I'm the PIO.' They said, 'Who?' I turned to one of the deputies right in front of Paul and asked her, 'Have you ever seen the media back here inspecting public records?' This woman laughed and said, 'No, never.'"
Stern was led to a room, where he was allowed to take notes with a pencil and mark which copies he wanted with sticky notes. An MCSO flunky was stationed in the room to watch him. Hours later, Stern was finished, and departed without incident.
Dan Barr jokingly asked if they put Stern "in an Abu Ghraib pose." Barr called the Fourth Avenue Jail tour "creepy intimidation."
But this tweeter sees it as par for the course for the MCSO. Sheriff Joe Arpaio's top minions don't understand the public part of public documents. Let's hope that, one day, the sheriff's regime will fall like some South American junta, and Chagolla will be lucky to be doing his flacking for the local dogcatcher.
But for the time being, New Times newshounds may still have to go to the slammer to see public docs. (Sigh.)
If you missed County Attorney Candy Thomas' wack PR stunt when he called a news conference to tell the world about an obscure little article on azcentral.com you can watch Candy's entire performance on the site of this pecker's blogging bro, Feathered Bastard.
There, you can see a pol so desperate for sympathy that he actually puts his own family at risk. Channel 12 and the Arizona Republic share azcentral.com, and their own reporters at the press conference hadn't even seen the four-paragraph piece. But Thomas made sure everyone got a gander of the tiny online-only story by Brahm Resnik, which included a link to Thomas' 2004 financial disclosure statement with the County Recorder's Office.
The financial disclosure paperwork mentioned the names of Thomas' four kids and gave his address. In case reporters had trouble finding it, Thomas handed out copies of the story, with the link in question printed in bold.
"These news agencies enabled criminals to readily obtain information about my family and me," declared the baby-faced prosecutor. "In the same manner that New Times endangered Joe Arpaio."
Puh-leeze, Candy, spare us the fake outrage. Commenters on the Feathered Bastard's post noted Thomas' hypocrisy. His handpicked attack schnauzer, Dennis Wilencheckbook, was after gads of personal info on New Times' online readers everyone who'd accessed the site since 2004, to be exact. Wilenchik wanted IP addresses, surfing habits, cookie info. Basically, everything 'cept the last time the reader visited the loo.
Candy's all outraged about his personal info being published? Technically, he should take it up with County Recorder Helen Purcell, since it all was on the recorder's Web site. Azcentral.com just linked to the financial disclosure. Following Candy's insincere burst of emotion, the Rep and Channel 12 had the story pulled, folding like a two-bit gambler with a pair of deuces.
Candy said that now his kiddies will need armed guards at taxpayer expense. If so, the county supervisors should have his pay docked. By holding the press conference, he endangered his tykes more than azcentral.com ever did.
Our Dave Foley-look-alike of a C.A. also kvetched that "people have had a lot of fun beating up on me" about the debacle, in which he was forced by public opinion to fire former boss Wilenchik and end the grand jury inquiry of New Times.
"You can criticize me," complained Candy. "Take whatever shots you want. I'm a big boy."
Really? Start acting like it. You get a point for dropping the grand jury inquiry, but would you have been doing the right thing without that tsunami of public outrage? The Taloned One doesn't think so.
Word's out that Rusty Childress has sold his Childress Kia lot and, for now, his extremist anti-immigrant organization, United for a Sovereign America, will be meeting at the Yucca branch of the Phoenix Public Library.
U.S.A.'s renting a room at the Yucca branch on Mondays, so now, Mexican flag-burners like Laine Lawless and white supremacists like J.T. Ready will be rubbin' shoulders with all the kiddies there with Mom and Pop to check out a copy of Dr. Seuss.
What's next for the library? Neo-Nazi bake sales? Ku Klux Klan coffee klatches? Fridays-are-Aryan days? This plumed penman just hopes the U.S.A. wackos don't scare the schoolkids with their loudmouth antics and hatemongering. Remember, kids, just because they don't have teeth, doesn't mean they can't bite.
According to Victoria Welch, the PIO for the PHX Public Library, P-town book barns have an open-door policy when it comes to orgs lookin' for a space. This nutcracker asked her if the library would let the neo-Nazis have a planning session if they'd want.
"If the neo-Nazis did come in, we can't turn them away," Welch stated. "We're a publicly funded institution. We can't turn anyone away."
To be honest, The Bird agrees with that policy because of the First Amendment and all that jazz. That doesn't lessen the odiousness of Childress' group, which spews hate 24-7 on its Web site, immigrationbuzz.com. A link from that site to the online store that sells gear for Childress' bike group Riders U.S.A. also offers T-shirts that read "My Back Is Still Wet"; "Illegal Aliens: When they RAPE your daughter you'll care!"; and "The Sucking Sound You Hear Is Anchor Babies."
The guy who designs this filth, a longtime member of U.S.A. and Riders U.S.A., sells another T-shirt that reads, "Undocumented Illegal Alien Hunter." So just when, this warbler wonders, has it been okay to "hunt" human beings?
Childress, winner of New Times' 2007 Best Bigot award, ended the meetings at his Kia lot weeks ago. And though the car-peddler will not return this beak-bearer's calls for comment, several calls to sales and service staff at Childress Kia have found that the sale is pending and that the dealership will change hands in November.
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To what degree Childress will remain at the helm of United for a Sovereign America's prejudiced powwows remains to be seen. Childress, who reportedly was in a severe motorcycle accident about two months ago, just stepped down as the head of the AZ chapter of the F.I.R.E. (Federal Immigration Reform and Enhancement) Coalition, an anti-illegals group well known in nativist circles.
Yet Childress attended, on crutches, a recent anti-immigrant press conference given by Nickel Bag Joe and County Attorney Thomas. Arpaio even introduced the obviously well-connected Childress to a reporter present at the event.
This perturbed penguin finds it both weird and pathetic that Childress and his followers are now nesting at the Yucca Branch Library. They pay about $15 for the space per meeting. Doubt they'll be reading much, save for history books on the Jim Crow South, of which they're likely to be fond.
Still, they might serve a good purpose. Should schoolkids ever wish to observe real-life bigotry, they can forgo the dusty tomes and study the U.S.A. members filing through to their meet.