Last week and again this week I read Julia Goldbergs blog post on someone I have discussed in previous blog posts of my own with some amazement. Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County Arizona is both hated and revered across this nation. Emails extolling his greatness are forwarded back and forth to hundreds of thousands of computers across the nation. I could not count how many times I have received this email, usually from someone who just moved to Santa Fe and thinks I should be like Joe. Public hangings would resume on the Santa Fe Plaza with me being the first recipient of the treatment if I was like Sheriff Joe.
My counter on this blog keeps track of how search engines lead people to my blog as well as how many visit per day. The search term Sheriff Joe Arpaio is always in the top 5 even though I have only mentioned him in 3 of my 217 previous posts on this blog. I first became intimately aware of this sheriff prior to my being elected to my first term. Our local jail was the number one topic of the election at the time. The jail was privately run and was receiving criticism from the public as well undergoing an investigation by the Department of Justice. I studied jail models from across the country and was shocked and amazed that our jail was under so much scrutiny from the Department of Justice while tent jails both in New Mexico and in Sheriff Arpaio's county seemed like comparing a Holiday Inn to an outhouse.
In the latest episode Sheriff Arpaio's Deputies arrested Michael Lacey, the executive editor, and Jim Larkin, chief executive of Village Voice Media — a company that owns a number of alternative weeklies including The Village Voice, The LA Weekly and The Phoenix Times.
The Phoenix Times and its editors have been in a long running battle with Sheriff Arpaio, after publishing a series of stories about his real estate dealings. They were arrested for unlawful disclosure of grand jury information. In a strange twist they were also being investigated for publishing the Sheriff's home address. I always thought everyone knows where every politician lives and if they did not know they could find out pretty easily. I cannot count the number of people who have knocked at my door and come to my home to ask for help, advice or just to let me know what they think about me or one of my deputies. Its part of being an elected official, at least in New Mexico it is.
Seems now the Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has not only dropped the charges against the news editors but he has also canceled the investigation into publishing of the Sheriff's Home Address. So, why are Grand Jury Proceedings Secret anyway? Most states who have Grand Jury systems follow Federal Grand Jury Rules.
Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provide that the prosecutor, grand jurors, and the grand jury stenographer are prohibited from disclosing what happened before the grand jury, unless ordered to do so in a judicial proceeding. Secrecy was originally designed to protect the grand jurors from improper pressures. The modern justifications are to prevent the escape of people whose indictment may be contemplated, to ensure that the grand jury is free to deliberate without outside pressure, to prevent subornation of perjury or witness tampering prior to a subsequent trial, to encourage people with information about a crime to speak freely, and to protect the innocent accused from disclosure of the fact that he or she was under investigation.
Courts have taken seriously any attempt to publish or report secret proceedings in Grand Juries. In a 2004 article published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Reporters are cautioned that judges will go after reporters who reveal information from secret Grand Jury Proceedings. In the Article published by The Phoenix Times the paper acknowledged they may be in trouble for publishing the subpoena's from the Grand Jury however decided that the publics right to know the far reaching effects of the subpoena was more important. The County Attorney in dropping the charges and investigations has since stated that the subpoena's were overly broad in their scope.
In my opinion a hard headed Sheriff and his attorneys have met their match in a hard headed newspaper. The two are butting heads and I wonder how much public money is being spent in this pissing match. Both sides have made errors and one can argue who is more right or wrong. In either case the public loses. All though the offenses are not necessarily on the same scale this reminds me of the Clinton/Monica Lewinski special prosecutor investigations in that no one really won and in the end what was the point of the investigation anyway? When public officials or the media go on witch hunts they can easily lose focus of their primary responsibilities and what their true mission really is.