Police arrest media heads

Two held in Phoenix on charges they revealed grand jury secrets

October 20, 2007|By New York Times News Service

Two executives from Village Voice Media - a company that owns a number of alternative weeklies, including The Village Voice, The LA Weekly and The Phoenix Times - were arrested Thursday night in Phoenix on charges that a story published earlier in the day in The Phoenix New Times revealed grand jury secrets.

Michael Lacey, the executive editor, and Jim Larkin, chief executive, were arrested at their homes after they wrote a story that revealed that the Village Voice Media company, its executives, its reporters and even the names of the readers of its Web site had been subpoenaed by a special prosecutor. The special prosecutor had been appointed to look into allegations that the newspaper had violated the law in publishing Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio's home address on its Web site more than three years ago.

The weekly and its leadership have been in a long-running battle with Arpaio since publishing a series of stories about his real estate dealings.

"They did not have a warrant, but they told me that I was being arrested for unlawful disclosure of grand jury information," Larkin said by phone from his home early Friday morning, after he was released from jail. Lacey remained in jail early yesterday morning. Capt. Paul Chagolla, a spokesman for the sheriff, did not return a call for comment.

Steve Suskin, legal counsel for Village Voice Media, said that the arrests on misdemeanor charges of the newspaper executives represent an escalation in the conflict between The Phoenix New Times and Arpaio, who has received national attention for his reputation for running tough jails.

"It is an extraordinary sequence of events," Suskin said. "The arrests were not totally unexpected, but they represent an act of revenge and a vindictive response on the part of an out-of-control sheriff."

Grand jury proceedings are secret. In the story about the case, Larkin and Lacey suggested that the publication of the subpoenas might be viewed as illegal.

"It is, we fear, the authorities' belief that what you are about to read here is against the law to publish," they wrote. "But there are moments when civil disobedience is merely the last option. We pray that our judgment is free of arrogance."

The subpoena asks for information not only about the newspaper's reporting, but also the information on readers who may have seen material deemed confidential and published on the newspaper's Web site. That includes the Internet domain names and browsers used, and any other information about online readers of the publication since Jan. 1, 2004.

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