Editor’s Note: Last week, the two top executives of Village Voice Media, owner of the L.A. Weekly, were arrested for publishing a story in Phoenix New Times about a secret grand jury investigation into New Times’ decision to publish the Arizona home address of controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The arrests of VVM executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin prompted a nationwide outcry and intensive media coverage, and both men were soon released from jail — and the grand jury probe was abruptly dropped. Below is an excerpt from our sister paper, Phoenix New Times, that looks at the political fallout from the incident. To read more, go to www.phoenixnewtimes.com.
LOOKING PALE AND uncharacteristically gun shy, Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas approached the podium in his office’s eighth-floor conference room, fully prepared to say his handpicked special prosecutor had acted inappropriately.
Following the arrests of New Times founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, Village Voice Media’s executive editor and chairman/CEO, respectively, ferocious and near-universal criticism of Thomas’ office ensued. Lacey and Larkin were nabbed in the middle of the night on a misdemeanor count of revealing the contents of a grand jury subpoena in their double-bylined cover story, “Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution” (October 18).
The public was outraged, not only by the arrests but by the broad scope of the grand jury subpoena demanding detailed, extensive information on all those who had visited New Times’ Web site since 2004, including IP addresses, cookies and browsing habits. The arrests of Lacey and Larkin smacked of police-state tactics, and everyone from legal scholars and attorneys to bus drivers and secretaries realized they had a stake in this First Amendment fight.
Less than 24 hours after the arrests, Thomas’ staff called the Friday, October 19, press conference that ended up standing-room only. His introductory remarks were punctuated by nervous coughs. He soon zoned in on the reason for the hastily organized event.
“The arrests that were conducted last night I had no knowledge of,” he claimed. “I got a phone call informing me of that fact. In looking at this matter in its totality over the last 24 hours, it has become clear to me that the investigation has gone in a direction that I would not have authorized. It was an error on my part to allow the matter to proceed to that point without having the proper — well — without basically having the personnel in place to ensure we didn’t go off track.”
Thomas announced the firing of ally and former boss Dennis Wilenchik as a special prosecutor in this and all future matters, though he later admitted Wilenchik would remain on a list of attorneys used for civil litigation.
“We are not going to proceed with this investigation,” Thomas stated in the extraordinary mea culpa, adding, “There is a right way and a wrong way to bring a prosecution, and to hold people accountable for their offenses. And what happened here was the wrong way. I do not condone it, I do not defend it. And so it ends today.”