Arizona’s Sheriff Arpaio Must Face Lawsuit, Court Says

Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, must face claims he violated the constitutional rights of the owners of the Phoenix New Times, a newspaper that has been critical of him, when they were arrested by his office in 2007.

The owners, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, sued in 2008 claiming, based on free speech arguments, that their due process rights were violated. They also argued they were falsely arrested and targeted for selective prosecution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco today rejected a lower court’s decision granting Arpaio qualified immunity on those claims, sending it back for reconsideration. The appeals court agreed with the dismissal of malicious-prosecution and racketeering claims.

“No warrant for Lacey’s or Larkin’s arrest had been issued, and we cannot fathom what exigent circumstances compelled either arrest,” the appeals court wrote.

Lisa Allen, a spokeswoman for Arpaio’s office, said in an e-mail today that the sheriff “is in Tampa at the Republican Convention and is unavailable for comment on this at this time. Upon his return, I’m certain he will review the court’s decision.”

A trial that concluded this month against Arpaio focused on claims by Latinos that their civil rights were violated when they were stopped, detained, questioned or searched by sheriff’s office agents in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. No verdict has been issued yet.

Latino Residents

The five named plaintiffs in that case claim Arpaio’s deputies discriminated against Latino residents, particularly in traffic stops. The case is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The closing arguments in that case were made Aug. 9 following a seven-day trial in federal court in Phoenix that was heard without a jury. Arpaio’s attorneys said there was “no evidence of discriminatory intent” in any of the traffic stops highlighted in trial testimony.

The appeals case is Lacey v. Arpaio, 09-15703, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco). The civil rights case is Melendres v. Arpaio, 07-02513, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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