PHOENIX (CN) — Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Democratic opponent in the November election has sued the controversial lawman, claiming that Arpaio, trailing in the polls, dredged up an old, defamatory allegation of domestic abuse for a campaign ad.
Paul Penzone sued Arpaio on Sept. 29 in Maricopa County Court, seeking punitive damages for defamation and false light.
Arpaio, a Republican, defeated Democrat Penzone in 2012 with just over 50 percent of the vote, his smallest margin of victory in a then-nearly 20-year career as sheriff.
A poll conducted in July by the Lincoln Strategy Group showed Penzone ahead of Arpaio, 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent.
“With recent polls showing Paul Penzone ahead of Joe Arpaio in the race to become Maricopa County Sheriff, Arpaio has resorted to blatant lies to smear Penzone’s reputation and bolster Arpaio’s re-election bid,” the complaint states. “Unable to unearth any substantive dirt about Penzone, has resorted to digging up old ads from his 2012 campaign that claim Penzone physically abused his former wife.”
In one Arpaio ad, a voiceover states: “After Paul Penzone assaulted his ex-wife, she went to court to get an order of protection. Penzone says nothing happened, but the judge found Penzone to be a threat to her safety or even her life.”
The allegations stem from a 2003 verbal dispute between Penzone and his ex-wife, Susan Hubbard, before they were divorced. During the incident, Penzone says in the lawsuit, his wife accidentally hit him in the face with their son’s hockey stick.
Penzone says he took out a restraining order against Hubbard, who “sought her own restraining order against Penzone as a retaliatory measure.” Both orders were granted, then dismissed when the court found the two “were able to amicably resolve their differences and that neither party was a danger to the other,” according Penzone’s lawsuit.
Arpaio’s campaign used similar ads during the 2012 election, when Penzone first ran against the Republican sheriff. “But those ads were fact-checked and debunked, not only by the media but even by Penzone’s ex-wife, who went on record in a sworn statement saying that Arpaio’s ad was a lie,” the complaint states.
Penzone , a former Phoenix police sergeant, adds that Hubbard signed a sworn affidavit in April stating that Arpaio’s ad was “inaccurate and misleading.”
Penzone says he provided Arpaio’s campaign with Hubbard’s statement and the correct information about their divorce, “stating that the 2012 ad was blatantly wrong and urging Arpaio not to rerun it.”
“As a longtime law enforcement officer, charged with investigating and ensuring allegations have merit, Arpaio knows that he should investigate the facts before making public accusations that affect people’s lives and livelihood,” the complaint states.
Penzone said at a Thursday news conference: “There’s never been a time in my life that I’ve hurt or harmed any woman or child, including my former wife.”
Penzone’s attorney James Holland added: “Sheriff Joe Arpaio has again decided to lie to the Maricopa County people. Knowing the truth, he is not just twisting the facts; he’s badly distorting them.”
Arpaio, a six-term lawman, has suffered from waning popularity due in part to a racial profiling lawsuit that led a federal judge to refer the sheriff for criminal contempt charges.
A status conference is set for Oct. 11 in the criminal contempt matter, as the Department of Justice determines whether to pursue the charges.
Kory Langhofer, an attorney for the Arpaio campaign, called the lawsuit a “political stunt.”
“We are going to defend this lawsuit vigorously,” Langhofer said after Penzone sued Arpaio.
Penzone seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defamation and false light.
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