(CN) – Joe Arpaio, self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff,” struck out with the Ninth Circuit on Thursday in his bid to toss a criminal contempt conviction after President Donald Trump pardoned him in 2017.
The former head of the Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Department was convicted of criminal contempt in a 2017 bench trial for failing to comply with a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling Hispanic drivers in his county during immigration enforcement actions.
The targeted sweeps were a centerpiece of Arpaio’s tough-on-crime campaign to remove undocumented immigrants from the county, a campaign also marked by outdoor “tent city” prison camps filled with immigrants arrested by police.
Maricopa County’s legal fees to defend Arpaio in lawsuits that accused his department of racially profiling Latinos during traffic stops and neighborhood sweeps swelled to over $70 million by 2017.
After Trump pardoned Arpaio, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton dismissed the matter with prejudice but ruled that the pardon didn’t mean her guilty verdict should be automatically vacated.
On appeal before the Ninth Circuit this past October in San Francisco, attorneys for Arpaio told a three-judge panel Bolton’s ruling could leave the former sheriff exposed to future legal action.
A Ninth Circuit-appointed special prosecutor in the case said at the hearing that vacatur is not automatic and that Arpaio must accept the consequences of the pardon he and his attorneys directly requested from Trump before the former lawman was sentenced.
U.S. Circuit Judge Jay Bybee wrote in the panel’s 12-page opinion Thursday that Bolton’s ruling had no preclusive effect and therefore could not be dismissed under the circuit’s holding in United States v. Munsingwear, which allows for vacatur in cases mooted while on appeal.
“In this case, vacatur would not further the purposes of Munsingwear because the district court’s verdict finding Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt has no legal consequences,” wrote Bybee, a George W. Bush appointee.
The special prosecutor, Christopher Caldwell of Boies Schiller Flexner, did not respond to a request for comment.
Munsingwear cannot apply since Arpaio could not be harmed by Bolton’s verdict in the matter, since it is inconsistent with the judgment, and because Arpaio was never sentenced, the opinion said.
Arpaio cannot apply preclusion or claim preclusion rules in any subsequent civil action for those reasons, according to the opinion, which affirmed Bolton’s ruling.
The panel declined to address Arpaio’s challenges of Bolton’s finding of guilt in the federal action because they are moot.
Attorneys for Arpaio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith, also a George W. Bush appointee, and Daniel P. Collins, a Trump appointee, rounded out the panel.