Federal Judge Dismisses $300 Million Defamation Suit Against Three Media Companies Brought by Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announces newly launched program aimed at providing security around schools in Anthem, Arizona, U.S. January 9, 2013. REUTERS/Laura Segall/File Photo

On October 31, a federal judge dismissed a $300 million defamation suit brought by the former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joseph Arpaio against CNN, HuffPost and Rolling Stone.

In December, Arpaio filed suit against the three media companies after reporters referred to him as a “convicted felon” while covering Arpaio’s bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

In 2017, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for disobeying a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people Arpaio suspected were illegal immigrants.  His conviction was only a misdemeanor, and President Donald Trump pardoned the former sheriff before he could be sentenced.

In his dismissal of the suit, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia said that Arpaio failed to prove actual malice. “…the Court acknowledges that the burden of putting forward articulable facts of actual malice is a difficult one to meet, especially when discovery is not yet available to the parties. But without this safeguard, the threat of lawsuits would chill our precious First Amendment rights to freely engage in political discourse,” Lamberth wrote.

Arpaio also filed a $147.5 million libel suit against The New York Times last October over an opinion piece that called him a “truly sadistic man.”

The Hill Opinion