SF Weekly Owners Allowed to Sue the Prosecutor Who Ordered Them Jailed

Categories: Law & Order
Is America's toughest sheriff now America's most relieved?
Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, principal owners of SF Weekly's parent company, are permitted to sue the Phoenix special prosecutor who had them arrested and jailed on bogus charges in 2007, a San Francisco appeals court has ruled.

However, a majority on a three-judge Ninth Circuit Court panel ruled that our bosses won't be allowed to go after the notorious sheriff behind the scandal, Maricopa County's Joe Arpaio.

Dissenting Judge Jay Bybee scolded his colleagues for seemingly failing to recognize that Arpaio's actions were so outrageous that Larkin and Lacey should be allowed to sue him.

"This is a sordid tale of abuse of public office," wrote Bybee, adding there was clear evidence of "Arpaio's extensive involvement in the alleged violations of Plaintiffs' clearly established constitutional rights."

For a detailed analysis of the ruling's significance, see coverage by our sister paper, Phoenix New Times. In a nutshell, Arpaio sought to punish that paper after legendary investigative reporter John Dougherty revealed suspicious real-estate purchases by the sheriff in 2004. Arpaio had reason to be concerned: Dougherty's coverage of Fife Symington's savings and loan activities were followed by his 1997 conviction on federal bank and wire fraud charges and resignation as Arizona governor.

Fortunately for Arpaio, Dougherty retired from Phoenix New Times in 2006. In 2007, a special prosecutor drew up some of history's oddest grand jury subpoenas. For one thing, the prosecutor, Dennis Wilenchik, was only faking that a grand jury had been empaneled; none actually existed. Further, Phoenix New Times explains, they

"were monstrous in scope. One subpoena, for example, sought to learn the identities of every person who'd visited the New Times Website over a period of years. Lacey and Larkin published details of the overreaching subpoenas in an October 18, 2007, article. Arpaio and Thomas blew a fuse upon reading it. That night, Lacey and Larkin were arrested at their homes by sheriffs' deputies."
The arrest generated national publicity as an example of gross public malfeasance. County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced soon afterward it had all been a big misunderstanding.

Though the Ninth Circuit seems to have let Arpaio off the hook, he and Thomas are not off the hook. According to Phoenix New Times, "Arpaio's still under federal investigation for abuse of power and civil rights violations, and Andrew Thomas may lose his law license after a disciplinary hearing before the State Bar this fall."

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