Media Errors Hurt Political Chances, Ex-Sheriff Arpaio Says
Law360 (December 11, 2018, 4:39 PM EST) -- Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio hit CNN, HuffPost, Rolling Stone and several reporters with a $300.5 million defamation lawsuit in D.C. federal court Monday, claiming that misreporting related to his since-pardoned misdemeanor conviction for criminal contempt has hurt his reputation and political chances.

Represented by conservative group Freedom Watch, Arpaio claimed that the reporting errors — including incorrect references to him as a "felon" and as having been "sent to prison" — have interfered with potential relationships with the Republican National Committee and GOP donors.

Arpaio, who was defeated by Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona 2nd Dist., in the Arizona Senate race earlier this year, said in the lawsuit that he intends to run for the seat left open by the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or for another public office in 2020.

"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, which is centered in the District of Columbia," the complaint says.

The lawsuit flags a CNN broadcast by newscaster Chris Cuomo on Jan. 10, in which he erroneously referred to Arpaio as a "convicted felon," as well as a Rolling Stone story Nov. 13 calling him an "ex-felon." The lawsuit also calls out a HuffPost report Nov. 5 that incorrectly said Arpaio was "sent to prison for contempt of court." Arpaio's conviction was for a misdemeanor crime, and he never served any time in prison for it.

As of press time, both HuffPost and Rolling Stone had deleted the erroneous language and issued corrections to the online stories.

Arpaio, who served as sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County from 1993 to 2017, has been accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of a pattern of discriminatory law enforcement practices against Latinos, including by targeting and detaining Latinos at work site raids and traffic stops based on their perceived race. Arpaio settled the bulk of those claims in 2015.

He was then convicted of criminal contempt in July 2017 when an Arizona federal judge found that he had continued to detain individuals not suspected of criminal activity solely based on their immigration status after a court order blocked the practice. But a month later, before Arpaio was sentenced, President Donald Trump pardoned him in the first presidential pardon of his term.

According to Freedom Watch, Arpaio's lawsuit against the media outlets is part of the group's so-called "leftist media strike force."

"It's time that someone stood up to the left's 'fake news' media, which is bent on destroying anyone who is a supporter of the president and in particular Sheriff Arpaio," Arpaio's attorney Larry Klayman, who founded Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, said in a statement.

In October, Arpaio sued the New York Times for defamation over an editorial, which included descriptions of alleged abuse of immigrants detained at the former Maricopa County sheriff's infamous outdoor "tent city." He was represented by Klayman in that suit.

In that lawsuit, which asked for $147.5 million in damages, Arpaio similarly claimed that the editorial's allegations — including that he "brought back chain gangs" at the immigrant detention center, withheld medical care from the detainees and failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes — were "carefully and maliciously calculated" to hurt his 2020 Senate odds.

A spokesperson for CNN declined to comment. Representatives for HuffPost and for Penske Media Corp., Rolling Stone's parent company, did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.

Arpaio is represented by Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch Inc.

Counsel information for the news outlets was not immediately available.

The case is Arpaio v. Zucker et al., case number 1:18-cv-02894, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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