Joe Arpaio’s Criminal Contempt Trial Set to Begin Today

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

PHOENIX (CN) — After 24 years as the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio faces the other side of the legal system Monday morning as he’s brought to trial on a charge of criminal contempt of court.

Arpaio, who served six terms as Maricopa County sheriff, faces a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt for failing to abide by a federal judge’s order to stop conducting immigration raids targeting Latinos. If convicted, he faces up to six months in jail.

The order was issued in a racial-profiling class action brought against Arpaio and his deputies in 2007 for racially profiling Latinos during traffic stops.

Arpaio’s hard-line rhetoric against undocumented immigrants gained him a popular following across Arizona and the United States. That came to an end last November when he lost his bid for a seventh term after years of legal turmoil that have cost taxpayers $50 million in legal fees.

Arpaio acknowledged his contempt in the class action after he allowed his deputies to continue to perform racially based immigration patrols for 18 months despite the judge’s order.

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found statements Arpaio made after the order was issued were evidence of the 85-year-old’s contempt.

Shortly after the injunction, Arpaio said in a statement that he would “continue to enforce illegal immigration laws.”

Three months later, his department issued another statement, saying: “Arpaio remains adamant about the fact that his office will continue to enforce both state and federal illegal immigration laws as long as the laws are on the books.”

The criminal case has seen a number of twists and turns since the Department of Justice announced last year that it would pursue the charge against Arpaio.

Arpaio’s longstanding attorney, Mel McDonald, withdrew from representing him in April after it was alleged in a court filing that Arpaio was “coerced” into admitting contempt in the civil case.

Mark Goldman, an attorney for Arpaio, wrote in a March court filing that Arpaio “never received the proper assistance of counsel in regard to the agreement because he was never informed that the agreement would leave him open to the criminal charges.”

Goldman could not be reached for comment.

The trial was slated for April, but was delayed to give time to Arpaio’s new defense team to prepare after McDonald withdrew. Attorneys Dennis Wilenchik and his son, Jack, joined Goldman on Arpaio’s team.

In April, the attorneys told the Department of Justice they wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify at the trial. Arpaio, like Sessions, was a vocal supporter of presidential candidate Donald Trump and found an ally in Sessions, who has often spoken out against comprehensive immigration reform.

In a letter to the Justice Department, the attorneys said they want Sessions to testify about “whether there exists, or has existed, a ‘clear and definite’ order” that violates U.S. immigration policy.

The Justice Department filed a motion to quash the subpoena on June 19, saying that neither Session’s legal opinions nor Justice Department policies “can excuse the defendant’s repeated, direct violations of a federal court order.”

Since April, Arpaio’s attorneys have peppered the court with filings seeking to further delay the proceedings.

On June 20, his attorneys filed a motion to stay the proceedings until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves his petition for a writ of mandamus to grant him a jury trial. As of now, Monday’s trial is to be a bench trial before U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton.

Bolton denied Arpaio’s previous request for a jury trial, as did the Ninth Circuit. An initial decision by the Supreme Court is anticipated on Monday.

Arpaio’s attorneys argue that if the Supreme Court finds for him on Monday, it will remove the need for a trial since the statute of limitation will have run out.

In a response, Justice Department attorneys say there is no evidence that a court ever granted a stay pending a Supreme Court decision on a mandamus petition.

“The Ninth Circuit has already denied the defendant’s mandamus petition, and the defendant identifies no reason why the Supreme Court, which grants mandamus relief only as a matter of ‘discretion sparingly exercised,’ … is likely to come to a different conclusion,” federal prosecutors wrote. “More to the point, the defendant cites no case — and the government is aware of none — in which a court has granted a stay pending the Supreme Court’s decision on a mandamus petition.”

On Thursday, June 22, Arpaio’s attorneys also requested a change of venue for the bench trial.

“Counsel does not suggest, nor mean to suggest that Judge Bolton would be consciously influenced in regard to the pending bench trial, but asserts that the influence may be there nevertheless because of the inescapable media coverage that this case has and will continue have in Arizona,” Arpaio’s attorneys wrote.

The Justice Department said there is no jury pool in Arizona that could be tainted by media coverage.

“He cites no legal authority at all in support of his motion, much less any case suggesting that a change of venue is ever necessary to preserve the impartiality of a judge as a fact-finder as opposed to a jury,” the prosecutors wrote.

Bolton has not yet ruled on the three motions.

The trial is scheduled to last two weeks.

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