Phoenix Newspaper Case Dropped, Special Prosecutor Fired

Bump and Update: The case has been dropped and the special prosecutor has been fired.


Grand Jury Investigation Seeking Phoenix Newspaper's Reader Data

In the department of news ranging from unprecedented to shocking, from the Phoenix New Times, this stands out.

This newspaper and its editorial staff — both current and former — are the targets of unprecedented grand jury subpoenas dated August 24.

The authorities are also using the grand jury subpoenas in an attempt to research the identity, purchasing habits, and browsing proclivities of our online readership.

At the heart of the matter is controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio (think, inmates wearing pink underwear and juvenile chain gangs forced to bury the dead and other bizarre jail programs.) The grand jury subpoena seeks:


"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."

That includes, according to the paper:

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

But, the subpoena also wants:

.... 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.

Here's the exact subpoena language:

"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]. . ."

...."Any and all documents containing a compilation of aggregate information about the Phoenix New Times Web site created or prepared from January 1, 2004 to the present, including but not limited to:

A) which pages visitors access or visit on the Phoenix New Times website;

B) the total number of visitors to the Phoenix New Times website;

C) information obtained from 'cookies,' including, but not limited to, authentication, tracking, and maintaining specific information about users (site preferences, contents of electronic shopping carts, etc.);

D) the Internet Protocol address of anyone that accesses the Phoenix New Times website from January 1, 2004 to the present;

E) the domain name of anyone that has accessed the Phoenix New Times website from January 1, 2004 to the present;

F) the website a user visited prior to coming to the Phoenix New Times website;

G) the date and time of a visit by a user to the Phoenix New Times website;

H) the type of browser used by each visitor (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape Navigator, Firefox, etc.) to the Phoenix New Times website; and

I) the type of operating system used by each visitor to the Phoenix New Times website."

What is Arapio so riled up about?

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.

The paper will resist:

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.

A motion to quash the subpoenas is pending, as is a motion to remove the special prosecutor.

The paper alleges the special prosecutor improperly contacted the judge.

Special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik argued in his paperwork that if we didn't like the intrusiveness of the subpoenas, we had choices within the system.

When Dennis Wilenchik surreptitiously contacted the judge presiding over our grand jury, he argued that we should not be alarmed.

"If there is prosecutorial misconduct in the proceedings, petitioners have remedies for that. Just ask Mike Nifong, the Duke [University] lacrosse players' prosecutor," wrote Wilenchik in his response to our motion to remove him from the case.

That's our remedy? Look to Duke? Look to the case where the defendants' lives were ruined, jobs lost, educations canceled, fortunes squandered on attorneys, reputations smeared, and the landscape scorched with the due process of the law?

There's more recent news in the case, including the arrest of the paper's editor and CEO last night.

New Times founders, Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and Chairman/CEO Jim Larkin at their homes late Thursday evening for revealing grand jury information in their recent story Grand Jury Targets New Times and Its Readers.

They bonded out around 4 a.m. today.

Unbowed and surprisingly lucid for a man who's just spent the night in jail, Lacey spoke with a gaggle of reporters including yours truly and Channel 3's Mike Watkiss. The journalist and alt-newspaper titan, who along with Larkin founded New Times in 1970 as a reaction to the war in Vietnam, vowed to continue the fight against abuses of power by County Attorney Andy Thomas, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Thomas' paid attack hound, lawyer Dennis Wilenchik.

"We're going to keep publishing, and with God's help, we're going to keep printing," he declared. Lacey explained the background of his arrest, and how special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik had attempted ex parte communications with the judge overseeing a grand jury investigation of Phoenix New Times. The investigation stems from the paper publishing Sheriff Arpaio's home address online three years ago in reporter John Dougherty's column. Lacey stated that Wilenchik's brazen attempt to influence the judge in this case forced New Times' hand, resulting in Thursday's revelation of the broad grand jury subpoena.

Stay tuned.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Do read the Phoenix New Times website (none / 0) (#1)
    by janinsanfran on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 11:26:56 AM EST
    linked above. If you think there is something wrong with a corrupt sheriff and an ambitious county attorney using a grand jury process to try to silence exposure of their misdeeds, reading the website directly attacks them apparently. Let's give the place a million hits. Besides, the convoluted story is enormously interesting; poke around.

    And the sheriff's address, the publishing of which is the "cause" of grand jury proceedings, apparently is readily available on the internet in  public records if we are to believe New Times. Apparently the Phoenix legal system has run completely amuck.

    Kafka meets Elmore Leonard (none / 0) (#2)
    by Deconstructionist on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 12:26:13 PM EST
     That might be the tightest concentration of insane public officials in the country.

    The grand jury is investigating (none / 0) (#3)
    by cboldt on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 12:41:18 PM EST
    The grand jury is investigating the violation of a state statute prohibiting publication of home addresses of law enforcement officials on the World Wide Web.

    The story is indeed fascinating.  If this (pressing a deep investigation for the above-referenced violation) passes for adult behavior, the children will be hard pressed to stay even with asininity.

    The Bush administration (none / 0) (#4)
    by clio on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 05:42:37 PM EST
    uses executive privilege and stonewalling to maintain power.  The Maricopa County power structure is using a compliant, complicit and corrupted legal system to do the same.

    The Siegelman prosecution in Alabama and the Thompson case in Wisconsin show that the use of corrupt legal process is actively and successfully used at the federal level.  It is not surprising that state and county officials would follow such an obvious example.

    The senile old republicans (none / 0) (#5)
    by jazzcattg1 on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 08:12:52 PM EST
    here in Maricopa County just love Arpiao and his Jabba the Hut deputy Mark Hellinshot.  These bozos are the epitome of insanity - there was a stunt where the so called Sheriff made inmates in the infamous tent city peddle exercise bikes, in 110 degree heat that were hooked to generators if they wanted electricity to power the lights in their tents.  

    Does this Sheriff have any relationship (none / 0) (#6)
    by lilybart on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 08:35:16 PM EST
    to Caroline Gottbaum, who died in police custody after being taken from the phoenix airport?

    wouldn't the sheriff's home address (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 11:09:50 PM EST
    already be a matter of public record? first, it would be recorded at the courthouse. next, wouldn't he have to provide it, to show he was eligible for election in his locality? as well, he's made himself a public figure, both by running for election, and seeking publicity, for his jail house stunts. he's pretty much abrogated any claim he might have, state law notwithstanding, to privacy.

    i suspect that state law, if challenged, would be held to only apply to non-elected law enforcement officials, since to hold it to elected officials would be violative of other state statutes.

    bottom line: these guys are class A jerks, and the "special prosecutor" should possibly be facing disbarment proceedings, as well as a civil suit, for violating the constitutional rights of the paper and it's owner/publisher.

    While I am pleased, of course, (none / 0) (#8)
    by clio on Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 12:06:05 AM EST
    that this seemingly political prosecution has been halted so promptly after the arrests and most recent subpoenas, I wonder why there seemed to be so little alarm about previously reported abuses of prosecutorial power.

    The story as reported so far seems pretty hot.  The back story must be explosive.  

    the comedienne lily tomlin (none / 0) (#9)
    by cpinva on Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 08:28:14 AM EST
    is purported to have said: "no matter how cynical you become, it is impossible to keep up."

    this might explain why all abuses of prosecutorial power haven't been reported, there just isn't enough time or space, and still report on everything else in the world. between brittany and paris, that doesn't leave much room open for anything else.

    Arrested for revealing the grand jury subpoena? (none / 0) (#10)
    by Peter G on Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 02:24:24 PM EST
    Under the federal grand jury rules, a witness (that is, the person receiving a subpoena, such as the editors of New Times) is not bound by grand jury secrecy, unlike the prosecutor, grand jurors, and law enforcement agents. Is the rule in Arizona different?  

    The truth about Sherrif Joe (none / 0) (#11)
    by unkawillbur on Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 10:19:59 PM EST
    I think this video explains everything you need to know, about Sherrif Joe.

    Not quite accurate (none / 0) (#12)
    by katmandu on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 08:55:58 PM EST
    The New Times published the addresses of
    the Sheriff and the county attorney.  Arizona
    law forbides printing address of the police,
    public defenders, prosecutors, jurers and
    the like.  There was something about sealed
    legal documents also.
    The subpoenas were denied as being way too
    inclusive.  The New Times couldn't supply the
    information requested.  Nobody could.
    You do know that this was internet and not
    related to the newspaper they put out.
    However, the New Times actions came to cost the
    Maricopa county citizens
    $100s of thousands of dollars due to security
    issues.  I, for one, am not happy to be paying
    for the New Times' stunt.  
    What did they hope to accomplish other than
    intimidate elected public officials?