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Joe Arpaio Sues New York Times for Libel

Joe Arpaio -- the sheriff most famous for being convicted and then pardoned -- is suing the New York Times for libel.

The former Arizona sheriff says the newspaper has ruined his chances of winning political office. The suit is based on a Times opinion piece about Arpaio's failed run for the U.S. Senate.

The headline said his loss was "a fitting end to the public life of a truly sadistic man." Of course, Arpaio's public life is not really over because he's making his own headlines.

"Truly Sadistic Man"

Although truth is a complete defense to libel, it may be hard for the Times to establish Arpaio was "truly" sadistic. He was convicted of contempt for ignoring a court order, and that sounds more like he was masochistic.

Opinion is a qualified defense, which could apply to a Times editorial so long as it didn't assert false statements as fact. In the contempt case, the judge found that Arpaio deliberately targeted Latino drivers -- so the defense might work.

Truth and opinion defenses will be issues for a court, not bloggers and reporters. But everybody knows New York Times v. Sullivan.

Hello, public figure, Mr. Arpaio? "Actual malice" still means something, but there's something else to consider.

Reputation Damages

Arpaio wants $147.5 million in damages, plus attorney's fees. That's a lot of lost reputation for a convicted sheriff.

At 86, he wouldn't have made that much money even if he had won the election. Probably.

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