A federal judge has tossed a $300 million defamation lawsuit filed against three national news outlets by America’s self-styled “toughest sheriff” Joe Arpaio.
A judge in Washington on Thursday dismissed the suit filed in December by the former six-term Maricopa County sheriff, alleging that CNN, the Huffington Post and Rolling Stone published inaccuracies that hurt his chances to win a US Senate seat and to procure necessary funding from the “Republican establishment and donors,” the Arizona Republic reports.
But Arpaio’s suit failed to prove actual malice, US District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in his opinion, while acknowledging the burden of doing so is a “difficult one to meet.”
“But without this safeguard, the threat of lawsuits would chill our precious First Amendment rights to freely engage in political discourse,” Lamberth said.
Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court in 2017, was later pardoned by President Trump, sparing him from possible jail time for continuing traffic stops targeting Hispanics despite being ordered by a judge to stop the practice.
But the misdemeanor conviction led to Arpaio, 87, being “sent to prison,” according to a Huffington Post story in November 2018. That same month, Rolling Stone referred to Arpaio as an “ex-felon,” despite the misdemeanor conviction, the Arizona Republic reports.
CNN later joined the fray in January when Chris Cuomo said Arpaio was a “convicted felon,” leading it and the other outlets to later issue corrections, according to the newspaper.
Arpaio’s attorney, Larry Klayman, said the former lawman now plans to amend his complaint so it can ultimately move to a jury trial.
Attorneys for the former sheriff – who said he intends to win the job back next year that he lost in 2016 – also asked an appellate court earlier this month to vacate the misdemeanor conviction, the newspaper reports.
“This is a matter of judicial housekeeping,” attorney Jack Wilenchik told a judge. “It is not fair to say Joe Arpaio can appeal his conviction but it can stay forever.”