About damn time! The “most corrupt sheriff in America” may finally face justice after years of abusing the powers of his office. The Arizona Republic reports, Federal judge refers Sheriff Joe Arpaio for criminal contempt:
The landmark decision comes after U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow found that Arpaio intentionally violated various orders rooted in an 8-year-old racial-profiling case.
The judge’s order also refers Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Arpaio’s former defense attorney Michele Iafrate, and Capt. Steve Bailey for prosecutors to consider criminal contempt charges against them as well.
The sheriff and Sheridan already have been held in civil contempt of court. Potential penalties are steeper in a criminal case, and only criminal contempt could result in incarceration.
“Criminal contempt serves to vindicate the Court’s authority by punishing the intentional disregard for that authority,” Snow wrote in his Friday order.
Snow’s decision, announced in a federal court filing, answers the key question that loomed over more than a year of contempt proceedings: Was the sheriff’s disregard of orders a criminal or civil contempt-of-court violation?
But it creates a whole new set of legal questions for the embattled lawman.
- Will the U.S. Attorney’s Office accept the recommendation?
What will the charge be?
- If Arpaio is found guilty, will a conviction legally force him to resign?
Could Arpaio end up behind bars?
- Will Snow’s decision affect Arpaio’s odds for a seventh term?
Reached for comment Friday evening, Arpaio said he hadn’t yet read the order but that it was being reviewed by his attorneys.
Several years ago the U.S. Attorney’s office wimped out and failed to prosecute crazy Uncle Joe Arpaio for what was the worst case of political intimidation of political foes and judges in Maricopa County, in concert with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who was later disbarred for his corruption. Crazy Uncle Joe Arpaio has yet to be held accountable for his corruption.
John Leonardo is now the U.S. attorney for Arizona.
Cosme Lopez, a spokesman for Leonardo, described the criminal contempt referral as “a very atypical situation” and said it is not clear what will happen next.
“We just received it about an hour ago,” Lopez said Friday evening. “It’s about 32 pages, so we’re just reviewing it like everyone else.”
He said the U.S. attorney will have several options, including passing the referral on to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section based in Washington, D.C. He declined to list other options and said it could take a couple of weeks for a determination on how to proceed.
Lopez said he does not know if Leonardo serves on any government task forces or boards that might create a conflict of interest in handing a case involving the sheriff.
Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton said there are few cases to look to for precedent. In a July interview, Charlton said he couldn’t think of another instance in which a federal judge had referred the head of a law-enforcement agency for criminal contempt.
“Fortunately in this country, it doesn’t happen,” Charlton said. “All of this is going to be relatively new in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
In May, Snow found Arpaio, Sheridan, Lt. Joe Sousa and former aide Brian Sands in civil contempt of court for violating three of the orders within the class-action racial-profiling case. Punishments for the civil-contempt finding already are being meted out, including reforms over the Sheriff’s Office’s internal-affairs department and setting up the compensation fund for victims of illegal detention.
Second order sets up victim compensation
In an order separate from the contempt ruling, Snow laid out the ways and means of compensating victims of racial profiling, which has been an ongoing matter of contention.
Some, which Snow called Track A, would be prequalified to claim damages if they are identified in government documents as being detained transferred to the Border Patrol, for simply being in the country and not in violation of state laws or if they can prove they were subject to other violations of Snow’s orders.
Another group, called Track B, would have to provide further proof or illegal detention.
Maricopa County must establish a compensation fund of $500,000. Claimants would then be awarded a base amount of $500, plus $35 for each additional 20 minutes of detention. Compensation per claim would be capped at $10,000.
In his order, Snow said that as an elected official, Arpaio would face little or no personal cost of reimbursing immigrants for illegal detention.
“The Sheriff’s defiance has been at the expense of the plaintiff class,” he wrote.
The county treasury, which is funded by taxpayers, he wrote, “bears the brunt of the remedy for the Sheriff’s (Civil Rights) violations.”
Snow appointed BrownGreer, a Virginia-based firm that specializes in “claims resolution” to administer the compensation.
Civil-rights, immigrant advocates react
Friday night, civil-rights advocates, many who have attended courtroom hearings or protested outside of them for years, celebrated what they saw as a step toward what they have demanded for years: to hold Arpaio and his aides criminally responsible for his office’s racial profiling of Latinos.
Two hours after Snow’s decision dropped, about 15 immigrant activists and lawyers gathered at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Phoenix owned by former Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who has had her own legal battles with the sheriff.
The group took time for a moment of celebration but quickly transitioned to remind supporters of the pain Arapio has caused their community and encouraged them to band together to ensure he will be prosecuted, convicted and forced out of office.
“This is a good day for us, but it is not the end. It is certainly not the end,” state Sen. Martin Quezada said.
Cecillia Wang, a plaintiffs attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said, “I think it is a terrific day for the people of Maricopa County.
“I think the court has given the sheriff every opportunity to get into compliance with his orders,” she said. “So this next step is one that’s necessary.”
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Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona said there are two “next steps” to make sure Arpaio is “no longer able to use the power he has to hurt people.”
First, the court system needs to “do the right thing” and criminally convict Arpaio, she said. Simultaneously, Arizona voters need to “do right by our community and our county,” and defeat Arpaio in this year’s election.
“That’s not partisan, that’s common sense,” she said, citing Arpaio’s civil-contempt citation and the county’s legal bills because of this ongoing lawsuit.
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But Paul Bender, a professor of law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said it’s unclear whether the statute requires convicted officials to resign immediately, or if they’re allowed to exhaust their appeals.
“I don’t know that there’s an established answer to that question,” he said. However, he added, “there’s a good reason to interpret the statute (as saying) just a conviction by a jury is enough.”
Bender said it’s also unclear whether convicted elected officials could get their jobs back should they win on appeal.
The entire issue could also become moot in a matter of months: Arpaio, a Republican, is running for his seventh term in office this year.
So will the voters of the state of Maricopa finally say “enough is enough, you have cost county taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars with your unethical and illegal actions while abusing the powers of your office,” and vote crazy Uncle Joe Arpaio out of office? The time to step up and administer justice is now.