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Joe Arpaio Sues News Media for $300 Million


Joe Arpaio Maricopa County 9th circuit liable

Former sheriff Joe Arpaio is suing media figures and companies for defamation, false light, and interference with business relations over allegations that several outlets and high-profile reporters incorrectly referred to him as a convicted felon and otherwise misrepresented his criminal record.

Filed on Monday, the 10-page lawsuit lists CNN President Jeff Zucker, CNN on-air personality Chris Cuomo, CNN itself, HuffPo political reporter Kevin Robillard, the HuffPo itself, Rolling Stone magazine staff writer Tessa Stuart and Rolling Stone magazine as the named defendants.

“Plaintiff Arpaio has been the target of three separate defamatory publications that falsely refer to and defamed him per se as a convicted felon,” the filing alleges.

Regarding CNN specifically, the lawsuit cites a January 10, 2018 broadcast about Arpaio’s entry into Arizona’s 2018 U.S. Senate race for the seat being vacated by Senator Jeff Flake. During this broadcast, Cuomo discussed the record of the controversial former sheriff but made one big mistake about Arpaio’s criminal record.

The filing notes:

At the 3-second mark, Defendant Cuomo falsely and with reckless disregard for the truth stated that Plaintiff Arpaio was a “convicted felon.” Plaintiff Arpaio has never been convicted of a felony. As of today, the CNN Broadcast is still available through Defendant CNN’s website and no efforts have been taken by Defendant CNN, Defendant Cuomo, or Defendant Zucker to correct this false statement.

Arpaio’s lawsuit also takes HuffPo to take for another seemingly incorrect statement about his criminal record over a November 5, 2018 article by Robillard about the eventual winner of that U.S. Senate seat.

Robillard’s article originally claimed that Arpaio had been “sent to prison for contempt of court.” This also never happened–Arpaio was pardoned by President Donald Trump before he served a day for his contempt of court conviction. The lawsuit similarly alleges that neither HuffPo nor Robillard have done anything to correct the record here but the current version of the article no longer contains the original claim and a correction message at the bottom of the story makes note of the change and error.

As far as Rolling Stone is concerned, Arpaio’s lawsuit singles out a November 13, 2018 article by Stuart about the influence President Trump had on Arizona’s 2018 U.S. Senate race. That article, the lawsuit notes, originally referred to Arpaio as an “ex-felon,” which, as should be clear by now, was also not true. Rolling Stone has since issued a correction of their own.

“This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Joe Arpaio’s criminal conviction for contempt of court was a misdemeanor, not a felony,” an editor’s note reads. “He received a presidential pardon in 2017. We regret the error.”

Rolling Stone‘s attempt to take responsibility for their error, however, isn’t quite good enough for Arpaio.

The lawsuit explains:

At a later time and date, Defendants Rolling Stone and Stuart silently changed the contents of its article … However, as of today, there is no indication on the Rolling Stone Article that a mistake had previously been made in referring to Plaintiff Arpaio as an “ex-felon.” Thus, persons who read the Rolling Stone Article when it falsely referred to Plaintiff Arpaio as an “ex-felon” are not aware that this statement is patently false.

Arpaio is suing the assorted media figures and outlets for more than $300 million. It should be noted that–even were Arpaio to win his suit–such a figure is an extremely unlikely verdict. So, what’s this really all about? The filing offers a bit of a clue:

“Plaintiff Arpaio’s distinguished 55-year law enforcement and political career has been severely harmed, as his reputation has been severely damaged among and with the Republican establishment,” the lawsuit says.

Why does that matter? As the complaint says:

Plaintiff Arpaio intends to run for U.S. Senate again in 2020 (as well as pursue other political and governmental endeavors in this district) for the seat vacated by the late senator John McCain, which is currently held by John Kyl, a placeholder until the 2020 special election can take place.

Law&Crime reached out to each of the named defendants and/or their representatives for comment on this article but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication. After this article was published, a representative for CNN declined to comment.

[image via Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

Editor’s note: this article has been amended post-publication.

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