Friday, October 19, 2007


This story, out of Phoenix, is a big deal, if you care about press freedom, blogging, or individual rights.

Basically, the Phoenix New Times was investigating the Sheriff's real estate holdings, and in the course of doing so they published his home address. He's been on a vindictive tear ever since:

New York Times, (by David Carr):
"Two executives from Village Voice Media — a company that owns a number of alternative weeklies including The Village Voice, The LA Weekly and The Phoenix Times — were arrested Thursday night in Phoenix on charges that a story published earlier in the day in The Phoenix New Times revealed grand jury secrets.

Michael Lacey, the executive editor, and Jim Larkin, chief executive, where arrested at their homes after they wrote a story that revealed that the Village Voice Media company, its executives, its reporters and even the names of the readers of its website had been subpoenaed by a special prosecutor. The special prosecutor had been appointed to look into allegations that the newspaper had violated the law in publishing the home address of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s home address on its website more than three years ago.

The weekly and its leadership has been in a long running battle with Mr. Arpaio, after the weekly published a series of stories about his real estate dealings.

"They did not have a warrant, but they told me that I was being arrested for unlawful disclosure of grand jury information," Mr. Larkin said by phone from his home early this morning, after he was released from jail. Mr. Lacey remained in jail early this morning. Captain Paul Chagolla, a spokesman for the sheriff did not return a call for comment.

Steve Suskin, legal counsel for Village Voice Media, said that the arrests on misdemeanor charges of the newspaper executives represent an escalation in the conflict between The Phoenix New Times and Sheriff Arpaio, who has received national attention for his reputation for running tough jails.

"It is an extraordinary sequence of events," Mr. Suskin said. "The arrests were not totally unexpected, but they represent an act of revenge and a vindictive response on the part of an out of control sheriff."

Grand jury proceedings are secret. In the story about the ongoing case, Mr. Larkin and Mr. Lacey suggested that the publication of the subpoenas might be viewed as illegal.

"It is, we fear, the authorities’ belief that what you are about to read here is against the law to publish," they wrote. "But there are moments when civil disobedience is merely the last option. We pray that our judgment is free of arrogance.

The subpoena asks for information not only about the newspaper’s reporting, but also the information on readers who may have seen material deemed confidential published on the newspaper’s website, including the internet domain names and browsers used, and any other information about online readers of the publication since Jan. 1, 2004."

From the Arizona Republic:

"It really is overbroad," said Kenneth Fields, a retired Superior Court judge. "And it touches on privacy issues of a lot of people who cannot be the subject of a grand-jury investigation. This is potentially thousands of people."
James Weinstein, professor of constitutional law at Arizona State University, called the subpoena "exquisitely overbroad" and "outrageous."

Weinstein said he has never seen or heard anything like the subpoena, which orders New Times to produce computer records of every person who has visited the New Times Web site in the past four years. "It has got to be unconstitutional," he said.

The Phoenix Times

By Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin:

In a breathtaking abuse of the United States Constitution, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and their increasingly unhinged cat's paw, special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik, used the grand jury to subpoena "all documents related to articles and other content published by Phoenix New Times newspaper in print and on the Phoenix New Times website, regarding Sheriff Joe Arpaio from January 1, 2004 to the present."

Every note, tape, and record from every story written about Sheriff Arpaio by every reporter over a period of years.

In addition to the omnibus subpoena, which referred to our writer Stephen Lemons directly, reporters John Dougherty and Paul Rubin were targeted with individual subpoenas.

More alarming still, Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik subpoenaed detailed information on anyone who has looked at the New Times Web site since 2004.

Every individual who looked at any story, review, listing, classified, or retail ad over a period of years.

The seemingly picayune matter of Sheriff Arpaio's home address getting printed at the bottom of an opinion column on our Internet site — and the very real issue of commercial property investments the sheriff hid from public view — have now erupted into a courtroom donnybrook against a backdrop of illegal immigration disputes, Mexican drug cartels, the Minutemen, political ambition, and turf disputes between prosecutors and the judiciary.

And given the diva-like drama that Arpaio attaches to even the mundane, you can add to the grand jury tension the paranoia of a Keystone Kops assassination "plot" against "America's toughest sheriff."

Behind these operatic and public developments, an ethical stain has spread over the secret proceedings of the grand jury.

Special prosecutor Wilenchik has sabotaged the integrity of the investigation.

Not content with using the hidden power of sweeping grand jury subpoenas, the government's lawyer attempted to get the ear of the sitting judge — out of earshot of New Times' attorneys.

Special prosecutor Wilenchik used a politically potent emissary in a behind-the-curtain attempt to set up a meeting between the judge overseeing the grand jury and Wilenchik.

In a hastily called hearing October 11, the judge labeled Wilenchik's attempt to set up an ex parte discussion "absolutely inappropriate."

In our humble opinion, Wilenchik's clumsy intervention behind the scenes with the judge was well beyond "inappropriate." Wilenchik's behavior raised the issue of an attempt to rig a grand jury already veiled in official secrecy.

In our deliberations, we faced the obvious: A grand jury investigation is a fearsome thing; a tainted grand jury is a tipping point.

We intend now to break the silence and resist."

In a grandiose insult to the Constitution, Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik used the grand jury to subpoena the online profiles of anyone who viewed four specific articles on the sheriff.

The pertinent section of the secret grand jury subpoena reads, in part: "All internet web site information for the Phoenix New Times internet site related to the web pages . . . [four specific articles on the sheriff]. The information should include, but not be limited to: The Internet Protocol addresses of any and all visitors to each page of . . . [four specific articles on the sheriff]. . ."

Energized, perhaps, by this mugging of Constitutional safeguards, Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik then shot the moon. The grand jury subpoena also demands Web site profiles of anyone and everyone who visited New Times online over the past two and a half years, not merely readers who viewed articles on the sheriff.

The actual subpoena is available here: Subpoena on the Phoenix New Times

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