Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Phoenix Newspaper at Center of Free Press Debate

Maricopa County in Arizona is in the news again, this time for a Grand Jury subpoena issued by County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who had convened a Grand Jury to investigate the Phoenix New Times newspaper because they had published the address of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpairo. The attorney also demanded the internet addresses of every person who had accessed the paper's website dating back to 2004 and information detailing what websites those visitors had accessed prior to visiting the one for the newspaper.

Late last week, two New Times founders were arrested and jailed for publishing the info on the sheriff, even though his home address appears on numerous government websites, all open to public view. Someone has a lot of explaining to do on this abuse of the court powers:

Phoenix New Times.... was threatened with felony prosecution for publishing Sheriff Arpaio's address on its website in 2004. After an adjoining jurisdiction declined to press charges, Arpaio's political ally, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, convened a grand jury to "investigate" charges the paper broke the law when it published Sheriff Arpaio's address.

Last week, Phoenix New Times' founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested and jailed after the paper published a story about the grand jury and subpoenas they had received that demanded detailed Internet records of any person who had visited the newspaper's website since 2004, as well as all notes and records from any reporter who had written about the sheriff in the preceding three years.

After Larkin and Lacey were arrested an outpouring of shock and anger accompanied widespread media coverage of the case. The response created a groundswell of support for New Times. The charges were dropped less than 24 hours later after Thomas admitted that his office had made "serious missteps" in the case.

"The actions of Mr. Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio in this case are beyond outrageous," said AAN Executive Director Richard Karpel. "They abused their offices by engaging in Gestapo-like tactics designed to silence a newspaper that has been highly critical of them in the past."

Rightfully, this mess started a firestorm of complaints and now the entire Grand Jury case is being investigated as news organizations are suing for access to those Grand Jury documents:

homas has "no objection" to unsealing the grand jury material and will support the media outlets' motion, spokesman Mike Scerbo said. He declined to elaborate, citing the legal restrictions on discussing grand jury matters.

Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Anna M. Baca scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the media outlets' request.

"That record will provide a full accounting of what has happened to date, and will enable the public to judge for itself whether the officials have acted appropriately, and whether the grand jury process has been abused," attorney David Bodney wrote in the media outlets' motion.
Though the subpoena covered multiple articles on Arpaio, Thomas has said the investigation was triggered by New Times' publication of Arpaio's home address.

State law prohibits online publication of personal identification of law enforcement officers. New Times reported Arpaio's address in a 2004 story, published both online and in print, on Arpaio's real estate holdings.

Thomas announced he wasn't aware of how a special prosecutor he'd appointed was conducting the investigation, that key aspects of the investigation were mishandled and that he was dropping the case and dismissing the special prosecutor.

The former special prosecutor, Dennis Wilenchik, did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment Monday.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Joe, I just saw this: