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Late-Night Arrest Case Against Arpaio Settled

PHOENIX (CN) - Sheriff Joe Arpaio will not face a trial for abusing the civil rights of two journalists after the board for Maricopa County, Ariz., approved a $3.75 million settlement.

Phoenix New Times, a weekly alternative newspaper at issue here, has been critical of Arpaio since he took office in the 1990s.

The sheriff allegedly became determined to punish the newspaper in 2005 after it published his home address in an article about his real estate investments.

Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the newspaper's co-founders, said Arpaio's plan took shape in 2006 when Andrew Thomas, a fellow Republican, became county attorney.

Thomas allegedly refused to pursue charges against the journalists under a state privacy statute until the New Times took aim at him as well. At that point, the county lawyer appointed his former law partner Dennis Wilenchick to look into the sheriff's complaint.

As special prosecutor, Wilenchik issued two subpoenas ordering Lacey and Larkin to hand over documents, notes and sources related to several articles.

Lacey and Larkin moved to quash the subpoenas and ran articles that blasted the investigation and detailed the demands of the subpoenas. A few days later, Wilenchick sent a special police squad to arrest Lacey and Larkin at their homes in the middle of the night.

The misdemeanor charges alleging that they violated the secrecy of a grand jury were dismissed five days later.

Lacey and Larkin sued Arpaio, the county, Thomas and Wilenchik in 2008, and the case was headed to trial last year after an en banc hearing in the 9th Circuit

"It is hard to conceive of a more direct assault on the First Amendment than public officials ordering the immediate arrests of their critics," Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the panel. "And, in this case, there was nothing subtle about their efforts to stifle the New Times."

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $3.75 million settlement for the journalists on Friday.

Lacey and Larkin say they will make grants from the settlement to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona; the Florence Project, which defends detained immigrants; Puente, a migrant rights group; and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defends digital rights.

"County officials could have curtailed the abuses of the sheriff years ago," Lacey said in a statement. "Instead, they looked the other way until Arpaio's excesses moved from Mexicans to magistrates. With these cash grants, we choose to stand with those who resist."

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