Update on Phoenix New Times jailings

The legal woes of two Village Voice Media executives who spent a night in jail last week were abated before the weekend arrived.

It isn't often legal nightmares are resolved quickly. In fact, anything pertaining to the law tends to drag on tirelessly.

But for the two executives at Village Voice Media who spent a night in jail last week, their legal woes were abated before the weekend arrived. On Friday afternoon, I wrote about how Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were incarcerated after they published details in the Phoenix New Times about a subpoena they received. Hours later, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, dropped all the charges against Lacey, Larkin and the paper.

Dennis Wilenchik, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, was removed from the investigation by Thomas the same day. Wilenchick has denied any wrongdoing, stating that "his investigation was not 'grossly mishandled or mismanaged,'" and he will not stand to have his reputation tarnished.

While it's not entirely clear what prompted the county attorney to drop the charges and remove Wilenchick, The Arizona Republic points out, that "Thomas' announcement came just hours after the State Bar Association confirmed that it had received multiple complaints and had launched an internal investigation into Thomas and special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik for their actions in the New Times case and an unrelated one."

The significant media uproar generated by Lacey and Larkin's imprisonment may be another possible explanation for the county attorney's actions, and Thomas contends that "he had no prior knowledge of the arrests or the demands set forth in the subpoena that his office sought."

The Arizona Republic, has filed a motion in court arguing that all "all court filings in the case that led to last week's arrests of two New Times executives be unsealed and that all future proceedings be opened to the public."

From the looks of things, it appears the righteous indignation of the people who learned of this attack on the press helped bring things to a halt, but given the history of the Phoenix New Times and the local sheriff, Joe Arpaio, it's unlikely this bitter feud will die anytime soon.

The Maricopa County Sheriff has prided himself on his controversial approaches to law enforcement throughout the 15 years he's served as sheriff of Maricopa County. A quick read through his wikipedia article reveals a series of questionable policies including feeding prisoners oxidized green bologna, placing a Webcam on pretrial detainees, and operating a tent city jail in triple-digit heat. As such, it comes as no surprise and provides great relief to know that the Phoenix New Times has held Arpaio accountable for his public policies and private transgressions.

I'm confident the Phoenix New Times will not be intimidated by the recent jailing and it will only increase their determination to hold "Sheriff Joe's" feet to the fire. But these sorts of attacks do have great potential to scare other journalists away from taking on incendiary stories .
About the author

    Josh Wolf first became interested in the power of the press after writing and distributing a screed against his high school's new dress code. Within a short time, the new dress code was abandoned, and ever since then he's been getting his hands dirty deconstructing the media every step of the way. Wolf recently became the longest-incarcerated journalist for contempt of court in U.S. history after he spent 226 days in federal prison for his refusal to cooperate. In Media sphere, Josh shares his daily insights on the developing information landscape and examines how various corporate and governmental actions effect the free press both in the United States and abroad.

     

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