Having just finished a trial to defend himself against a racial profiling lawsuit, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is headed back to court. This time, it’s due to a federal civil rights and conspiracy lawsuit filed by Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, owners of the Phoenix New Times. Arpaio’s codefendant will be Dennis Wilenchik, a special prosecutor appointed by former County Attorney Andrew Thomas. In April, Thomas and one of his former deputies were disbarred for unethical attacks on political opponents.
While the New Times has frequently written–and still writes–a long series of articles critical of Arpaio, it took awhile for him to find someone who would arrest the publishers. Lacey and Larken assert that he tried in 2005 after they published an article on his real estate investments, but the county attorney at the time, Richard Romley refused. So did the Attorney’s Office in neighboring Pinal County. So Arpaio waited until kindred spirit Andrew Thomas assumed the County Attorney’s position. Thomas willingly appointed Wilenchik, his former law partner, to investigate the duo.
In October, 2007, the New Times published an article exposing the investigation, plus the details of subpoenas they were issued. A few nights later, at midnight, the men were arrested at their homes.
At first, Arpaio’s arrogant belief that he is above the law was reinforced by the U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix. She granted immunity to the officials involved and dismissed the case. On Wednesday, however, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Bolton’s ruling, denied immunity for Arpaio (partial immunity was granted to Wilenchik), and said the lawsuit could proceed. In a blast at the sheriff, the court wrote, “Although the grand jury disclosure violation was just a misdemeanor, he [Arpaio] dispatched his special unit to arrest Lacey and Larkin at their homes in the middle of the night. Sheriff Arpaio should have known that arresting someone at his home requires a warrant, unless there are exigent circumstances.”
Once again, Arpaio is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars that will be paid out in his defense, and quite probably in an award to the plaintiffs. The good news for all thinking residents of Maricopa County is that Arpaio will face a strong Democratic opponent, Paul Penzone, in November’s election. Plus, Sheriff Joe’s support in the polls is finally starting to slide, with the funding for his election campaign coming mainly from out-of-state.
Maricopa County has a chance to redeem at least its portion of Arizona–and end Arpaio’s megalomanic obsession with glorifying himself at any expense.