Free speech in Phoenix

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I've had, to say the least, some fights with the company that publishes the SF Weekly. We're suing the bastards for predatory pricing. I've made a few critical comments on the big chain in my time.

But I'm also the First Amendment chair of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and we are strongly supporting the chain's flagship paper, the Phoenix New Times, and its top executives, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, in their battle against a local sheriff and prosecutor in Arizona.

The back story: The Phoenix New Times has done a series of critical stories on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. At one point, the paper ran his home address as part of a story question some of his real-estate deals.

Under and old and obscure Arizona law, publishing the home address of a law-enforcement officer is a crime. This is particularly silly when the person in question is an elected official, whose place of residence is and ought to be public record.

But Arpaio's political ally, prosecutor Andrew Thomas, convened a grand jury to secretly investigate the "crime" -- and the grand jury issued a subpoena demanding, among other things, all of the information in the New Times servers showing the IP addresses of any of the tens of thousands of readers who might have viewed the sheriff's address on the web.

Larkin and Lacey wrote a piece revealing that they'd been subpoenaed -- and since revealing information about a grand jury is also a crime, they were arrested. The Charges have been dropped. but AAN, representing more than 120 weekly alternative papers around the country, has issued a statement denoucing Arpaio and Thomas -- and most of the AAN papers (including the Guardian) are going to run the statement and a link to the places on the web where you can view Sheriff Arpaio's home address. He can't go after all of us.

Here's the statement and the links:

WASHINGTON, DC ‹October 23, 2007‹ Member papers of the Association of
Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN.org) this week are providing links on their
websites that direct their readers to the many places on the Internet where
the home address of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is listed.

AAN papers are doing so to show solidarity with the Phoenix New Times, which
was threatened with felony prosecution for publishing Sheriff Arpaio's
address on its website in 2004. After an adjoining jurisdiction declined to
press charges, Arpaio's political ally, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew
Thomas, convened a grand jury to "investigate" charges the paper broke the
law when it published Sheriff Arpaio's address.

Last week, Phoenix New Times' founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were
arrested and jailed after the paper published a story about the grand jury
and subpoenas they had received that demanded detailed Internet records of
any person who had visited the newspaper's website since 2004, as well as
all notes and records from any reporter who had written about the sheriff in
the preceding three years.

After Larkin and Lacey were arrested an outpouring of shock and anger
accompanied widespread media coverage of the case. The response created a
groundswell of support for New Times. The charges were dropped less than 24
hours later after Thomas admitted that his office had made "serious
missteps" in the case.

"The actions of Mr. Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio in this case are beyond
outrageous," said AAN Executive Director Richard Karpel. "They abused their
offices by engaging in Gestapo-like tactics designed to silence a newspaper
that has been highly critical of them in the past."

Added AAN First Amendment Chair Tim Redmond, executive editor of the San
Francisco Bay Guardian: "Our association and its members won't tolerate this
sort of attack on the right of a member paper to publish information that is
and ought to be public record."

"This was a victory for the First Amendment, the constitution and for our
readers right to read our newspaper without the government spying upon
them," said Larkin and Lacey in a joint statement. "As the Federal press
shield legislation moves from the House to the Senate, we hope people will
remember what happened to reporters, editors and readers in Phoenix."

Phoenix New Times has published dozens of stories critical of both Thomas
and Arpaio. In fact, the paper maintains an archive on its website of its
coverage of Arpaio since he was elected sheriff in 1992:

New Times published Arpaio's home address in a story arguing that he abused
a state law that allows law enforcement officials to keep their addresses
from being made public. New Times said Arpaio used the law to hide nearly $1
million in cash real-estate transactions.

Thomas convened a grand jury to investigate the case even though Arpaio's
home address was then and continues to be easily accessible on a number of
other websites, including the Maricopa County Recorder's official website(click "2004 Financial Disclosure Statement" for
PDF)

Other links are here and here

Arpaio continues to resist New Times' request for information relating to
his real estate holdings.