The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that SF Weekly's parent company, Village Voice Media, can sue the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Our sister paper, the Phoenix New Times, published the following story after the court made its decision in San Francisco.
Nighttime arrests of journalists. One-man grand juries. Secret, illegal subpoenas seeking confidential info on all online readers of a muckraking newspaper. Retaliation for criticism of those in high places.
If that sounds like some sub-tropical authoritarian regime, it's not. Rather, it was Arizona in 2007, when Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and VVM CEO Jim Larkin were hustled, handcuffed, into unmarked cars with Mexican plates, all for the "crime" of exposing the extra-constitutional misdeeds of a special prosecutor working on behalf of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
In June of last year, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Phoenix attorney Dennis Wilenchik, the special prosecutor in question, could be sued for those false arrests of Phoenix New Times co-founders Lacey and Larkin and for violations of their First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Wilenchik's bosses, the men who empowered him to go after New Times -- now-disbarred, disgraced ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his political ally, Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- were granted immunity. The former, total immunity. The latter, partial.
New Times appealed and won an en banc review by a larger panel of judges. That panel's decision, issued today, handed New Times a huge, if not total, win: Arpaio does not have qualified immunity in this case and can be sued for his actions against Lacey, Larkin, and this newspaper.
Lacey hailed that part of the Ninth Circuit's 72-page ruling.
"Only in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jurisdiction do journalists get arrested in the middle of the night for what they write," he told me. "Only in Sheriff Joe's jurisdiction do poor Mexicans get swept up like cattle. But Joe Arpaio can not deport Larkin and Lacey. The Ninth Circuit said so."