Posted Aug 30, 2012 06:45 pm CDT
Controversial Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joseph Arpaio must stand trial on allegations that he had two alternative newspaper executives jailed in retaliation for articles criticizing his activities, a federal appeals court has held.
An en banc panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) Wednesday that Arpaio and special county prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik could not use governmental immunity to shield themselves from a lawsuit brought by the owners of Phoenix New Times, the National Law Journal reports.
In the suit, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, co-owners of New Times, alleged that they were arrested and jailed overnight in 2007 in retaliation for reporting that Arpaio’s allies in the county attorney’s office had unlawfully obtained grand jury subpoenas demanding that they identify their sources for articles critical of the sheriff. Some of the articles also questioned Arpaio’s real estate transactions.
The en banc ruling reversed a 2010 decision by a three-judge panel, which affirmed a lower court holding that Arpaio and Wilenchik, a private-practice attorney appointed as a special county prosecutor to investigate the newspaper’s activities, were entitled to qualified immunity from the plaintiff’s constitutional claims.
The 11-judge panel, in a 72-page opinion, found that the plaintiffs adequately alleged several causes of action for which the defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity.
Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff,” has gained national attention among other things, for his harsh treatment of prisoners, and for his strict enforcement of laws targeting illegal immigrants. Arpaio is also being sued by the U.S. Justice Department which contends that Arpaio oversees an office that routinely discriminates against Latino residents.
A spokesman for the county said officials were reviewing the decision. Wilenchik did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.