Trials & Litigation

9th Circuit rejects Sheriff Joe Arpaio's attempt to remove judge in racial profiling case

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Joe Arpaio

Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Christopher Halloran /

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dealt another loss to Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, the Arizona Republic reported this week.

The decision came in the civil contempt hearings against Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for defying court orders in a seven-year-old racial profiling case. U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow had ruled that Arpaio’s Phoenix-area deputies were singling out Latinos in traffic stops and immigration patrols. He ordered drastic changes to the sheriff’s department and an independent monitor.

But Arpaio and some of his aides have failed to abide by those directions, giving rise to the contempt hearings. This spring, they turned personal. Under questioning by Snow in court, Arpaio admitted that he had hired a private investigator to look into Snow’s wife. Arpaio said he was concerned that Snow’s wife had said Snow “wanted to do everything to make sure” Arpaio was not reelected. Arpaio has a history of investigating and sometimes criminally charging judges and political opponents.

The alleged comment by Snow’s wife, and questions Snow asked about it, are part of why Arpaio asked to recuse the judge. His attorneys also cited Snow’s questions about a possible investigation of Snow himself, stemming from Arpaio’s reported belief that Snow was conspiring with the Department of Justice to “get” Arpaio.

Snow denied the original recusal motion. The 9th Circuit on Tuesday upheld that denial in a brief decision saying Snow’s choice was “not clearly erroneous as a matter of law.” Arpaio’s Twitter feed said Tuesday that his office would explore all options, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the absence of any further high-court proceedings, hearings are tentatively scheduled to start Sept. 22.

The fiery sheriff has attracted national attention for his unusual and strict practices, including aggressive immigration enforcement, forcing inmates to wear pink and housing prisoners in tents in the 100-degree Arizona heat.

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