PHOENIX (CN) — Attorneys for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his top aide argued in court Friday afternoon that their clients' repeated disregard of a federal judge's orders did not amount to criminal contempt.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found Arpaio and Chief Deputy Gerald Sheridan in civil contempt in May, ruling the two disobeyed Snow's orders in a 2007 class action to stop racially profiling Latinos, withheld documents from the court and misstated facts while under oath.
They both now face referral to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges of contempt of court, perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to a court-appointed monitor.
The plaintiff class raised the civil contempt allegations against Arpaio and Sheridan, claiming the two men and other command staff in the sheriff's office failed to deliver data to the court and train deputies on how to make constitutional traffic stops, as required by a 2013 order.
Mel McDonald, an attorney for Arpaio, told the court Friday that Snow should take into consideration the sheriff's lengthy "exemplary" law enforcement career and his age, but should also focus on how the criminal referral could affect progress of complying with the court's orders at the sheriff's office.
"Referring the criminal contempt would almost undermine the directives you've given," McDonald said. "It is self-defeating."
Snow said he's considered whether the remedies he's ordered will change the actions of Arpaio and Sheridan.
In an order Wednesday, Snow removed some of Arpaio's authority over his internal affairs department, and laid out reforms the sheriff's office must make when handling misconduct investigations.
"Chief Deputy Sheridan and Sheriff Arpaio lied in the contempt hearing," Snow said. "They lied to my face."
Snow, who has overseen most of the nearly decade-old case, indicated the two men would not receive any special treatment due to their status within the sheriff's office.
"I am through putting up with that kind of stuff and they are going to be as responsible for what they do as any other citizen in Maricopa County," Snow said.
McDonald said mistakes were made by Arpaio in implementing Snow's previous orders, but improvements have been made in working with the court-appointed monitor and among supervisors in the agency.
"You have the best of both worlds by not making the referral," McDonald said. "Give them the opportunity to prove it to you."
Lee Stein, an attorney for Sheridan, argued that reforms recently imposed by Snow make a criminal referral unnecessary.
"The court has, as it stands, imposed civil remedies that are going to result in a number of investigations into Chief Sheridan," Stein told the court. If any investigation produces evidence that Sheridan acted against the court's order, it may result in his termination from the sheriff's office.
"These are severe and profound consequences for Chief Sheridan and his future," Stein said.
The ACLU, which represents the plaintiff class, urged Snow in June to refer Arpaio and Sheridan to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Arpaio and Sheridan "have openly defied the court's authority in front of subordinates, repeatedly violated the court's discovery orders, deliberately misled the court appointed monitor, and willfully subverted MCSO's internal affairs system to evade being held responsible for their misconduct," the memo argued. "And even after they were called to account in a civil contempt proceeding, Arpaio and Sheridan continued to flout the rule of law by lying on the witness stand."
Michele Iafrate, a former attorney for Arpaio, and Capt. Steve Bailey also face criminal referrals.
The two are alleged to have delayed producing a cache of identifications to the court.
It is unclear when Snow will rule on the referrals. Snow is also expected to levy fines against Arpaio and Sheridan.
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