Late yesterday the gavel fell on Joe Arpaio, Maricopa’s County’s top law enforcement official.
It must have felt sharp for the law enforcement official who previously manipulated court slowdowns by not allowing deputies to transport prisoners to trial whenever he was angry. But as of yesterday afternoon Sheriff Joe now must face claims he ordered the 2007 arrest of two newspaper editors critical of him; according to the full 9th Circuit panel.
“It is hard to conceive of a more direct assault on the First Amendment than public officials ordering the immediate arrests of their critics,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the 11-judge panel. “And, in this case, there was nothing subtle about their efforts to stifle the New Times.”
The trouble bubbled over after the Phoenix New Times published Arpaio’s address as part of a series of articles about Sheriff Joe’s land holdings.
(Turns out Sheriff Joe was actively hiding the addresses of his multiple, various real estate investments holding.)
Previously the slippery sheriff only revealed his home address.
The court was not amused by Sheriff Joe’s retaliation. Not to be outdone Chief Justice Alex Kozinski added,
“Dennis Wilenchik wasn’t just any prosecutor: He was a special prosecutor. He got the job because his crony, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, gave it to him. Plaintiffs allege Wilenchik used that power to harass Thomas’s and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s enemies.
For this, the majority anoints Thomas with every governmental wrongdoer’s favorite unguent, absolute immunity.”
Well. That about sums up the court’s feelings on the matter. Naturally the publishers, who were pulled from their beds in the middle of the night, are ecstatic. Their headline read:
Joe Arpaio Joins Lawyer Dennis Wilenchik on the Hook for 2007 Arrests of VVM Executive Editor and CEO
More interesting? That the two publishing executives were hustled out in unmarked cars with Mexican license plates. This should give Arizona’s governor who never misses a chance to express concern for safe borders, pause.
Justice moves slowly. Andrew Thomas has already been disbarred.
The Ninth Circuit summed it up with: “There was never any evidence suggesting that the publication of Arpaio’s address by any website ever posed an imminent and serious threat to Arpaio.”
Best for last, the Ninth Circuit denied Arpaio qualified immunity for First Amendment violations, false arrest.
It’s an important win for the press and public alike.