Federal Judge Dismisses Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Defamation Suit

By Scott Bourque
Published: Friday, November 1, 2019 - 1:01pm

Joe Arpaio
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Joe Arpaio in 2011.

A federal judge has dismissed former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s defamation lawsuit against three media corporations.

Arpaio had sued CNN, the Huffington Post and Rolling Stone magazine claiming they published inaccurate and defamatory information that caused him to lose the 2018 Senate race. 

CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Rolling Stone Magazine both referred to Arpaio as a felon, while the Huffington Post claimed he was sentenced to prison for his misdemeanor contempt conviction. None of the claims were true, and corrections were published. Arpaio received a pardon for these charges from President Donald Trump in August 2017. 

The judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Arpaio had failed to prove the media organizations acted with malicious intent, which is required for statements to be considered defamatory to a public figure. 

In his 13-page opinion, Judge Royce Lamberth said it was the media’s responsibility to report on “issues of great public importance so that the American people can make informed decisions at the ballot box and elsewhere.” 

Judge Lamberth criticized the errors made by the defendants in the suit, but said the suit couldn’t go forward without Arpaio, the plaintiff, proving malice. Without this burden of proof, “the threat of lawsuits would chill our precious First Amendment rights to freely engage in political discourse,” he said in the opinion. 

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