Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 19, 2007


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mike Sunnucks - Business Journal
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
>>Ted Simons:
It's Friday, October, 19th, 2007. In the headlines this week, two executives with the phoenix new times newspaper have been arrested following the publication of Thursday's cover story on a grand jury subpoena. Maricopa county attorney Andrew Thomas has been defeated in his battle against superior court judge Timothy Ryan. And Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio vows to turn up the heat in his crackdown on illegal immigration. That's next on horizon.

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>>Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons and this is the journalists' roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Mike Sunnucks of the Business Journal, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

>>Ted Simons:
The phoenix new times finds itself in the middle of a storm following publication this week of a story on a grand jury subpoena. On Thursday, the Maricopa county sheriff's office arrested new times chairman and CEO Jim Larkin and executive editor Michael lacey. This afternoon, Maricopa county attorney Andrew Thomas held a news conference to address the controversy.

>>Andrew Thomas:
The New Times' actions in placing the address, the name and address of the sheriff on their website and then on their front cover, while they may have thought it was fun yes, was a reckless and dangerous thing to do for a man who is routinely threatened by criminals across the world, that regardless of that fact, and regardless of the fact that apparently grand jury material was leaked -- again, I can't confirm or deny whether or not subpoenas were issued as has been reported, consistent with the law. And we are in a difficult position. Because we at least want to honor that law. And therefore cannot comment as freely about what has happened. Nonetheless, given that this case has -- given that there have been serious missteps taken, in my judgment, in this matter, given the fact that I feel compelled to pull this case back from the special prosecutor in the matter because it has been mishandled, and I am announcing today that he will no longer -- Mr. Willingcheck will no longer be serving as a special prosecutor on this matter. He's not serving as one on other matters, as far as that goes. But because of the posture of the case, given all these facts, and given what has been reported relative to these e-mail addresses, which does offend me as an American and as somebody who cares deeply about the first amendment for the reasons that I stated. And as a final point, given that as I have said all along, I do not feel comfortable in having our office prosecute this case and do not think as a practical matter given the missteps that have been made that it is a viable case, even though there is plenty of evidence that misdemeanors were committed and the law was broken, I am announcing that as I said the special prosecutor, that matter has now been pulled back into this office. We are not going to proceed with this investigation. The charges are going to be dismissed. And the matter is going to end, along with an acknowledgment that while crimes were committed -- and I think that they were completely indefensible actions by the new times -- there is a right way and a wrong way to bring a prosecution and to hold people accountable for their offenses. And what happened here was the wrong way. I do not condone it. I do not defend it. And so it ends today.

>>Ted Simons:
All right. Howie, what is going on here? What is this all about?

>>Howard Fischer:
Well this goes back to 2004 investigation by New Times into questions of land and property purchased by the sheriff. Sherriff makes something under $100,000 a year. He does have retirement benefits and something else. But he was apparently buying up pieces of property. And yet using another state law that says -- that's designed to protect the home addresses of peace officers to protect all his other property. New Times to its credit was look around, and as part of that published his address. Published it on the website. The interesting thing is state law says if I want to hold up his address right here and say, here's his address, it's perfectly legal. I want to put it on a billboard. Perfectly legal. The law says, however, you may not publish the address of a peace officer in a way that is -- might endanger the person, that there is an immediate and serious threat and that the person in the publishing realizes there would be an immediate threat. Based on that, there has been a grand jury investigation going on for some time to find out what did New Times know when did they know it and everything else. Now, did they publish it? Duh, it's there. I don't know why you need a grand jury to figure that out. But what really got everybody's attention and caused this whole thing to blow up was this subpoena. This subpoena went to New Times and said we want investigation on the story you published there and three subsequent stories and on the notes the reporters had and their conversations. And what really got everyone was, we also want to know everybody who has been to the New Times website since January 1, 2004. We want their IP Addresses which lets you track back to them. We want to note cookies, what sites they visited before they got to the new times website. And all of a sudden, now you have a fishing expedition.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Wasn't there an argument that they're going after -- they're trying to find information on the death threats against the sheriff? He just went up to Canada to testify in a case where there's a death threat. He came out recently and said there's folks down in Mexico that are targeting him. That's what they're trying to tie --

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
What blew this all up when new times -- they publish on Thursday -- came out and said we're the subject of a grand jury investigation to all their readers. What pushed them to do that, according to Michael Lacey, is that they found out there had been some untoward approaches towards the judge in the case by the special prosecutor for the county attorney's office. And they felt that the only way to defend themselves was to just go public.

>>Howard Fischer:
And that's what's really interesting. Because I've got to give -- look, lord knows as somebody who works by full disclosure, I worked for a year for Mike Lacey. We didn't get along. I may not have been crazy enough for him. He may have been too crazy for me and that's fine. Lord knows new times does solely to provoke and poke things in people's eyes. But the fact is they at least had hutzbah. In the face of the law that makes it illegal to disclose in one of these subpoenas, to go out and say, here's what the county attorney is doing. The fascinating thing we saw on the monitor was the county attorney saying, I don't know nothing about this. I have a special prosecutor. I didn't know what the heck he was doing.

>>Ted Simons:
That's what I want to get to is the press conference there. Yes, again saying, I'm not sure what this guy is doing. Who is this guy? Who is Dennis Willingcheck and where is he coming from?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
A Phoenix private attorney that hired Thomas while Thomas was out of office to work at his firm. They've hired him to kind of outsource certain cases. One involving Ryan, the judge, obviously this case and other cases. And he's political friends with Thomas and a lot of republicans in town.

>>Howard Fischer:
And what's interesting is, you know, I find is hard to believe that the elected county attorney who is buddy-buddy with the elected chair, let Dennis go off, issue subpoenas, to make arrests, to go to Mike Lacey's house last night and Jim Larkin's house last night and haul them off for a misdemeanor. And somehow the county attorney was totally unaware of this? It doesn't wash.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Willingcheck also represented Sheriff Arpaio in the defamation says that just went down. The New Times has been going after these three guys in earnest the past three years. They issue a ton of requests against the sheriff's office and county attorney's office all the time. The breadth of the subpoena seems like political payback to me.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Last I checked, there's nothing illegal about issuing -- submitting public records requests. I do it. I don't do it with the regularity of New Times. There's nothing illegal about that. So suck it up. You're a public official. This is part of your job. To go back to Howie's point about -- you can have your doubts about whether county attorney Thomas knew about this. But if you take him at his word that he did not know that his special prosecutor was going out and having these folks arrested and approaching the judge, et cetera, et cetera, if he didn't, if you take him at his word, then how much does he -- this will call into questions of how he supervises his office and special prosecutor. It doesn't seem like that's going to look very good for Thomas either way.

>>Ted Simons:
And is the state bar association -- reportedly now aren't they looking into both the county attorney and Mr. Willingcheck?

>>Howard Fischer:
Well, this started; the separate issue of Andy Thomas has had an ongoing battle with at least one, if not several, Maricopa county superior court judges. Because he doesn't think they're taking cases against illegal immigrants and old bail requirements seriously enough. So Andy, in his typical overblown fashion says I want to disqualify this judge. In fact, I want to disqualify all the judges from handling cases involving the Maricopa county attorney's office in a criminal case. Well, that's all of them. That's mostly what they do. So what happened came down to the question of the improper conduct. Dennis Willingcheck essentially saying to go a judge, accusing a judge of bias without what appears to be any evidence according to the record. And so this all started from that. Now, Andy Thomas' complaint about the bar investigation says, these are just the judges that were getting the state bar to do their dirty work. There's probably some of that there. But now they have this on top of it, Willingcheck and Thomas might have been able to skate. Is this prosecutorial misconduct? Certainly a question about this. Is this the prosecutor in terms of arrest using his office for unfair purposes? You bet.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
I think the biggest concern is for consumers' folks out there that go to news sites, websites. A subpoena like this tracks when you were there, what you looked at and what you looked at before. We know this is going on with some companies, Google and others look at everything we do. How many grand jury subpoenas are going to come down the line that we don't know about because New Times doesn't print them?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I agree with Mike that going after the judge on illegal immigration issues. That's a big hot button issue. People aren't going to be very sympathetic to anybody who is perceived as being soft or giving a pass to illegals. Likewise the media. We're not a very sympathetic kind of target.

>>Howard Fischer:
Speak for yourself. I'm very sympathetic.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I'm very sympathetic for you, Howie. But when you expand that and you see what the subpoena was seeking, which is information on anybody who went to new times website to look for anything, that starts to really raise a lot of privacy concerns.

>>Ted Simons:
Then you have a broad nature of the subpoena, the broad nature of the attack against the courts. Why so provocative? Why are these things -- is this Andy Thomas' style now just to say, I can do this, let's go?

>>Howard Fischer:
Why so provocative. Let's talk about who his client is, who's behind. This Joe Arpaio. He's larger than life certainly in his own eyes. Provocative? I mean, the man is the self-touted toughest sheriff this side of the universe. He's full of himself. Andy and he get along very well. I think they see this as good for them. I think Andy has some future political ambitions. I think he sees the stuff as far as the judges, taking on judges, going back to Mary Jo --

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Taking on the left wing media.

>>Howard Fischer:
Judges in the media, taking them on, no problem. But I think that this thing -- I think that's why he dumped Andy over the side. That's what today's press conference was. He dumped Andy over the side, dumped Dennis Willingcheck over the side. Now, how much did he dump them? Remember, Dennis has perhaps a couple hundred thousand other contracts with the county. So Dennis may go lick his wounds while he's cashing the checks from the county.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
From a p.r. standpoint, New Times wins. They're the crusaders they always like to be. Arpaio and Thomas love to be in the news so if they can weather our criticism. It might appeal to the constituency. Going after the news media.

>>Ted Simons:
That's a good question. Who wins and who loses in the court of public opinion with Joe and Mary out on the couch are they saying, go get them, Joe? Are they going to say who's been on the website the last few weeks?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Certainly comments coming in on the web, which might be subpoenaed -- yeah. There's not a lot of sympathy for what the county officials are doing. People sort of get this that this might be overstepping the bound. Also, I mean, you asked what's fueling this. I mean, the county attorney has had a corruption -- I forget the correct name but the task force. But it's the sheriff and the county attorney. And they've been investigating corruption. They went after former state lawmaker Russ Jones who after he lost his election they got a conviction against him for petition fraud. They're investigating attorney general Terry Goddard. So taking on a lot of I would argue high profile targets. I'd like to know some low profile targets.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
I think in the end Arpaio and Thomas lose with their crowd. We're a libertarian state in a lot of ways still. This real smacks that right in the face.

>>Ted Simons:
I understand going after these people. Again the word provocative, were there different avenues they could have taken with the courts? The New Times saying when the subpoena comes out all bets are off. Especially going up in front of the judge saying whatever he said, are there other avenues he could have taken?

>>Howard Fischer:
Certainly you can ask to disqualify a judge on a specific case. Certainly the over breadth of the request and the court, the judge who actually heard the case said this is an overbroad request. You have no proof this judge is biased. But they like these big grand maneuvers and kinds of things.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
It's a shot across the bow to the other judges hearing this and to the media.

>>Ted Simons:
Is the shot hitting? I mean, after today are those shots hitting?

>>Howard Fischer:
Now everybody will start looking at it through the eyes of, what don't we know? Look. This is a subpoena we know about only because Mike Lacey and Jim got arrested. What else is out there? The larger problem that we keep hearing about -- I'm a libertarian from way back -- grand juries are prosecutors, tool. They are the prosecutor's tools. You can issue a subpoena, a subpoena for people, a subpoena duces tecum without a judge checking it. This is on a state level. What is happening at the federal level where the Bush administration doesn't want to be bothered with those pesky courts before they have people arrested? I mean, what's next? Extraordinary rendition by Sheriff Joe of people he doesn't like?

>>Ted Simons:
I want to get back to the court of public opinion a little here. Because we did an ASU Channel 8 poll recently showing 62\% support for the sheriff's crackdown on illegal immigration. I want to get back to illegal immigration. What does that tell you about the sheriff? First of all, what are the procedures he's using now? How is he justifying some of these stops, some of these arrests?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
He's going after day laborers is what he's doing. They're using local ordinances. Cave creek passed a loitering ordinance. He'll get a statement from somebody saying these people are hanging out or harassing or littering and he'll use these small charges to go out there and check people. If they are undocumented he takes them away. Low-hanging fruit is what he's after. These guys are out looking for jobs, not the criminal element. Easy to pick up and get headlines.

>>Howard Fischer:
Here's the other part of it. If you're the owner of a furniture store, 36th street and Thomas and your driveways are being blocked by people at Home Depot and you call Phoenix police and they won't do anything. You call the sheriff, who is the sheriff in the whole county including the city limits. He has his people cross trained with immigration and customs enforcement to check immigration status. I don't blame, a, the business owner, if you want to call it low-hanging fruit or anything, or, b, the sheriff's department. If I'm running a business --

>>Mike Sunnucks:
How many people that are undocumented are they arrested out there for loitering or littering? Probably zero. They're arresting people they find undocumented. There are people that loiter and litter through this whole county in different spots. He's not going out there for that reason. He's using an arrest to arrest them.

>>Howard Fischer:
No question. But a good percentage of these people are undocumented and that's the issue.

>>Ted Simons:
Are we seeing any kind of indications that these crackdowns are working? Are people leaving, not hanging out, loitering?

>>Howard Fischer:
Now you have the larger problem, the issue Mary Jo and I are covering which is the new employer sanctions law set to take effect January 1 unless a judge overrules it. We have seen that enrollment is down, families are leaving. We see evidence that people -- at a certain point, if you're harassed enough and you don't think you'll be able to make a living after January 1 you'll go somewhere else. I don't think they're going back to Mexico but Nevada.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Nevada, California, Texas, places where they won't be harassed. They're not going back.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
The difficulty with this is it's hard to gather -- there's no one stop shopping to figure out -- we don't know why all these kids are leaving schools. Lots of reasons especially in more inner city school districts a lot of churn, kids don't come back.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
But the polls show the public supports what Joe's doing. Every time they back up what the voters have done, they passed every get tough measure that come to them and they support what he's doing.

>>Howard Fischer:
That's the funny thing about this whole misstep here on both Joe's part and Andy Toms' part. The other night Alfredo Gutierrez made a statement comparing Sheriff Joe's tactics to the Nazi regime. I think that's sort of uncalled for in terms of comparing Nazis rounding up 6 million Jews with Sheriff Joe rounding people up for deportation. But he takes this and then he does these stupid things like going out and arresting Larkin and Lacey. Well, I was ordered to by the county attorney. Somehow, for a guy who understands publicity, he had a tin ear on this one.

>>Ted Simons:
Immigration initiatives. We have a couple of these things voting around. Talk about voting and enforcing things. We're talking unfunded initiatives going on here. Mary Jo, what are these about? Any chance of them passing?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
A new one entered this week. Sponsored by a coalition of business groups primarily and works off the state sanctions law which Howie said is set to begin the January 1. Modifies it a little bit. They feel this will provide a safe harbor so if an employer in good faith does everything he has to do to make sure somebody is legal he can't get dinged like i.e. lose his license or have it suspended or revoked. So it attempts to be a kinder and gentler employer sanctions law but still says it's going to go after employers who hire illegally. That's out. They're going to start circulating it. That joins a petition that's been underway for like a half year launched by Don Goldwater gubernatorial candidate Russell Pearce which has a one strike provision. So one bad problem and you're out. And then thirdly, those two deal with illegal hirings. The third one also sponsored by Pearce and Goldwater would require local police departments to do primary enforcement on illegal immigration.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
What the business sanctions measure is doing is to confuse voters like the state trust land. Both failed. If you end up introducing something weaker people end up voting no on both because people will throw the baby out the backwater.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
We saw two smoking measures.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
And that was --

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
One passed. They didn't both go down.

>>Howard Fischer:
The interesting about this, Andrew Pocheko who ran against Andy Thomas -- universal conspiracy theory, he insists he's doing this to con -- not doing this to confuse the voters. But it seems like this is designed to be a nonenforcement enforcement. For example, any complaints have to be in writing. So you can't call about your employer and level him out. Also, the existing law that's going to take effect makes it a crime to report -- make a frivolous complaint. This makes it illegal to report a false complaint. If your complaint ends up false you could be in trouble. Will this chill complaints? I got to wonder.

>>Ted Simons:
It's the kind of thing you can't tinker with because it's initiative. The governor wants legislative process to work --

>>Mike Sunnucks:
These are the same folks that are suing the sanctions law. They really don't want any enforcement. Want to be able to hire these folks.

>>Ted Simons:
Before we go, Lewis Rhodes passed away. Thoughts on him.

>>Howard Fischer:
I dealt with him a lot. He would go in -- you know, you talk about the legislative process and all this stuff. He knew how to disagree without being disagreeable. He knew how to go in and talk to people, talk to lawmakers and to say, look, here's the problem. Now, did he win a lot given the nature of some of the conservatives in the legislature? Not always. But he picked up enough points and enough friends that when he went, in I think people listened to him.

>>Ted Simons:
We should mention former head of the Arizona ACLU Mary Jo?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I didn't deal much with him but when I learned he never learned how to drive. And for a guy who could navigate phoenix on the bus system, kudos to him.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
The most politically incorrect group in this state right now, but the subpoena from Arpaio and Thomas shows civil liberties are really at stake here.

>>Howard Fischer:
Got a full circle.

>>Ted Simons:
Where does it go from here? The Thomas-Arpaio train, will it keep on rolling to find new stops?

>>Howard Fischer:
Of course it will. This investigation is done. But again what scares me what grand jury subpoenas do we not know about? What is out there? Are you going to see Joe Arpaio on TV within the next seven-days? I'll be willing to bet you lunch, dinner and a trip to San Francisco on that. He knows how to get the publicity. He generally knows how to stick his finger in the air and figure out what's happening. You'll see more roundups of illegals 36th and Thomas. You'll see stuff like that. Andy Thomas, I think he'll cool it for a little while because I think he recognizes Mary Jo's question. Even if you didn't know about it, how could you not know what your special prosecutor was doing with a grand jury investigation?

>>Ted Simons:
We have to agree it looks like Andy Thomas took a hit in this thing.

>>Howard Fischer:
Oh, god, yes.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
I think it goes against our civil liberties.

>>Ted Simons:
Very good. Guys, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

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