Joe Arpaio's $147.5M lawsuit against New York Times, opinion writer lacks merit, newspaper tells court

The New York Times and a member of its editorial board are requesting that a federal court dismiss a libel lawsuit filed by former Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio over an August opinion column he claims damaged his reputation.

Arpaio’s suit is “not likely to succeed on merit” and the statements made against him were not made with actual malice, meaning published with reckless disregard for the truth, according to a motion filed Friday in a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

“All apart from the fact that Arpaio can neither adequately plead nor ever prove that the statements in the column about him are false, Arpaio’s claim should be dismissed at this preliminary stage for the principal reason that he fails to allege facts that, if proven, could plausibly establish that The Times published any allegedly false factual statement in the column with the requisite level of fault,” the motion for dismissal stated.

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The Times and editorial board member Michelle Cottle also asked a judge to award them attorney’s fees and accused Arpaio of pursuing the litigation in an effort to punish or silence the paper through the burdensome cost of legal defense fees.

“It is also the case that the column, which advocates a view that the “bare-knuckle approach to law enforcement” publicly championed by Arpaio throughout his career should be rejected, qualifies for protection under the [Anti-SLAPP] Act as “expressive conduct that involves petitioning the government or communicating views to members of the public in connection with an issue of public interest," the motion states.

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The lawsuit stems from an Aug. 29 column written by Cottle titled ” Well, at least Sheriff Joe isn’t going to Congress.” The piece was published just after Arpaio - who dubbed himself America's toughest sheriff -  lost a Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate.

Cottle wrote that Arpaio’s 24-year tenure as sheriff was “medieval in its brutality” and accused him of “racial profiling on a mass scale and terrorizing immigrant neighborhoods with gratuitous raids and traffic stops and detentions.”

Arpaio is seeking $147.5 million in damages from the Times and Cottle.

Progressives and immigrant advocacy groups often criticized Arpaio for his approach to undocumented immigrants and living conditions inside his jail and his treatment of inmates.

Arpaio claims the column damaged his credibility to secure funding from donors for a potential 2020 Senate run and “carefully and maliciously calculated to damage and injure” his reputation.”

After being found guilty of criminal contempt for disobeying a judge's order to stop traffic patrols that allegedly targeted undocumented immigrants, Arpaio was granted a pardon in 2017 from President Trump.

Arpaio is now fighting for the conviction to be expunged from his record. On Wednesday the Justice Department said it would not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appointment of the special prosecutor.

The move clears a key hurdle so the appeal over Arpaio's record can proceed at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.