When Joe Arpaio reads a column he doesn’t like, he doesn’t fire off a letter to the editor. Instead, his lawyer threatens to sue the writer. Sheriff Arpaio the bully is Citizen Arpaio the bully.
Is this the further breakdown in understanding of free speech in this country? At the very least it’s a sign that the belief in silencing someone’s speech with legal threats, however futile, is alive and well.
Mark Goldman, Arpaio’s attorney, sent a letter to Andrew Crespo, a Harvard Law professor, reminding him about libel law and requesting he retract a statement he made about Arpaio in an op-ed he wrote for the Boston Globe.
Specifically, Goldman insisted the statement “Arpaio was convicted of violating a court order that directed him to stop arresting Latinos unless he had probable cause that they had committed a crime” was false and misleading.
“Given your legal education, experience and expertise as claimed in your bio at Harvard Law School, you must be aware that your following statement in your Op/Ed is false and misleading,” Goldman snarked to Crespo.
In the current fashion, Goldman also asked Crespo in the letter whether his employer had approved the op-ed or been aware it would be published. If so, Goldman asked for the names of those at the school knew of or approved the op-ed.
Snitching to employers has become a popular tool in the tool box of the free speech-hater, be they Twitter trolls or lawyers.
Crespo responded to Goldman, and posted both letters on Lawfare because, he said of the “tendency of late for our political leaders to threaten lawsuits as a way to try to suppress speech that they find critical or unflattering.”
Crespo explained in his letter what he had written about Arpaio was factually true, and noted that even if it weren’t, Arpaio is a public figure and “even a statement that is flatly false cannot support a libel claim, absent a showing, as required by the First Amendment, that the allegedly defamatory statement was published “with ‘actual malice’.”
Given that Goldman is (presumably) an accredited lawyer, he should’ve known the libel laws don’t apply here. Crespo hinted at that, reminding Goldman that if Arpaio were to sue Crespo, the former sheriff “would be liable for a judgment ordering him to compensate [Crespo] financially for any fees or costs that [he] might incur responding” to the lawsuit, since it was “devoid of reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law.”
Crespo’s op-ed was a suggestion that the judge in Arpaio’s case hire a special prosecutor to question the constitutionality of Donald Trump’s pardon of Arpaio. The judge is considering it.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post said the judge had already decided to appoint a special prosecutor. I apologize for the error.