Alt-weeklies reach some closure in free press fiascos

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Remember the double-shocker to the alt-weekly world back in October, when Orlando Weekly and Phoenix New Times staffers found themselves facing arrests and subpoenas after writing several critical articles on local police?

Well, the papers have finally reached some closure.

The Orlando Weekly's blog reports the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation dropped its racketeering charges against the paper:

Breaking: The MBI has dropped its racketeering charges against the Orlando Weekly, as well as misdemeanor and felony charges it filed against three Weekly employees last October for  selling ads to prostitutes. As it turns out, the MBI brain-trust hit a small hitch - there's not really anything illegal about that.

Per the settlement, the three employees will enter into what's called pre-trial diversion - the same thing that happened to Buddy Dyer when the state dropped charges against him in 2005. The paper also agreed to stop running the Adult Services ads, and reimbursed the MBI $10,000 for its investigation.

Over in Phoenix, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office dropped charges on New Times founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin months ago. And now the New Times is filing a formal Notice of Claim, a precursor to a lawsuit:

The notice, required under Arizona law before government officials can be sued, paints a political landscape gone awry, with public servants turning taxpayer-supported institutions on end in defiance of the U.S. Constitution, due process, and the right of a free press to operate without intimidation."This is not a decision undertaken lightly," said Michael Lacey, executive editor of Village Voice Media, which owns New Times, and who, along with CEO Larkin, founded the paper. "We are not an organization, and Larkin and I are not individuals, that sue people. It's just not what we do. But I feel like if we don't do something, it's an invitation for this kind of behavior to continue."

The "behavior" to which Lacey referred was particularly chilling: a special prosecutor running amok, issuing overbroad and unconstitutional subpoenas aimed at the reading and browsing habits of citizens; a vendetta by Sheriff Joe Arpaio against New Times and its staff, the arrests of the paper's executives on petty charges in the middle of the night by members of the sheriff's clandestine Selective Enforcement Unit.

"What emerges is one of the most nakedly oppressive, conscience-shocking assaults on a free press by police and prosecutors in U.S. history," observes New Times lawyer Michael Manning in the Notice of Claim.

For more info on the notice of claim, click here.

For the backstory, check out the story I wrote back in October.

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