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Phoenix alt weekly owners may sue Arpaio, Maricopa County

PHOENIX — Two newspaper executives arrested last October by members of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have filed a notice of claim that they intend to sue the county over the incident.

Phoenix New Times executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin named Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Dennis Wilenchik, the former special prosecutor assigned to the case, in their notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit.

According to the notice of claim, if a suit is filed, it will allege violations of constitutional rights, including false imprisonment and freedom of expression; racketeering under federal law, based on a pattern of past behavior on the part of the Sheriff’s Office; conspiracy under state and federal law; and malicious prosecution, abuse of process and intentional interference with business expectancy under state law.

The pair are asking for punitive damages between $10 million and $90 million, an amount equal to fines that Wilenchik had asked be imposed against the New Times for publishing subpoena information.

However, for $15 million, Lacey and Larkin will settle with the county if it acts by April 19, according to a narrative by their attorney Michael Manning.

In 2004, New Times published a series of articles criticizing Arpaio. In one article, the paper published Arpaio’s address online. Thomas appointed private attorney Wilenchik as special prosecutor. Wilenchik issued a subpoena demanding documents related to the reporting and publishing of several articles and information about New Times’ Web site readers.

Lacey and Larkin published a story about the subpoena and the case against their writers, and they were arrested the night the story came out.

Thomas then disavowed the handling of the matter, fired Wilenchik as special prosecutor and said Lacey and Larken would not be prosecuted.

Lacey and Larkin declined to comment Wednesday, saying that the notice of claim was self-explanatory.

Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for the County Attorney’s Office, said, “This is a frivolous claim by a tabloid whose editors admitted they violated the law and a publicity-seeking lawyer in an attempt to keep an old story alive. We are confident that it will be exposed as the bunk it is.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre called the notice “pretty much hyperbole and histrionics. The notice-of-claim statute says you have to provide facts so that the agency can evaluate the basis for the claim, and instead we get 18 pages of pretty much dramatic interpretation,” MacIntyre said.

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