Arpaio’s attorneys filed the motion Friday, moments before a status conference to prepare for the second half of a civil contempt hearing set to continue in June.
Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio, his Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan and three former and current officers face contempt charges accusing them of violating a court order in a 2007 racial profiling class action.
“The MCSO did not understand [racial profiling], in an immigration context, to prohibit the use of race as a factor among others in making a law enforcement decision,” U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow wrote in the order . “Thus, MCSO deputies could consider race as one factor in stopping a vehicle or initiating an investigation so long as race was not the sole basis on which deputies made that decision.”
Attorneys for Arpaio and Sheridan claim in a motion for recusal that Snow’s inquiry during the contempt hearing in April “is sufficient to mandate recusal and disqualification” and make Snow’s wife “a material witness.”
Snow’s questioning was prompted by a Phoenix New Times article that claimed Arpaio, 82, hired an investigator to find information showing that Snow and the Department of Justice were conspiring against him.
“Importantly, this article had never been disclosed and no advance notice was provided to any of the defendants or their counsel in the contempt proceeding that the article would be discussed or relied upon by Judge Snow,” the motion states.
During his testimony in April, Arpaio told Snow the private eye found that Snow’s wife had told an acquaintance that her husband “wanted to do everything to make sure [Arpaio was] not elected.” The acquaintance later sent a Facebook message to the sheriff with the information.
“Whether a sitting judge is admittedly biased toward a defendant in his court and will do anything to ensure he is not re-elected is – without question – a conflict that creates grounds for recusal,” the attorneys claim. “Accordingly, even if at some point there is a denial that Mrs. Snow made the statements at issue, the conflict that is created is unwaivable.”
Cecillia Wang, an ACLU attorney representing the underlying plaintiffs, said there is no basis for Snow to be recused.
“Frankly, the timing of Arpaio’s motion is very suspect and indicates that this is an effort to manipulate the judicial system and to derail the contempt proceeding,” Wang said Friday.
Mel McDonald, an attorney for Arpaio, called Wang’s statement “wrong.”
The motion calls into question a number of other actions taken by Snow, including the timing of his 2013 order, which was released one week before a petition to recall Arpaio was due.
“The time of the decision was curious and problematic, as it resulted in immediate marches and protests against defendant Arpaio at a crucial point in his political career,” the motion for recusal states.
The first judge assigned the 2007 class action, U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia, recused herself due to statements her sister – a political activist – made publicly against Arpaio. It is unclear if the new motion will delay the second half of the civil contempt hearing.
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