Constitutional Law

Contempt hearing bombshell: Sheriff Joe Arpaio admits he had federal judge's wife investigated

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Christopher Halloran /

Courtroom observers gasped and murmured on Thursday when a contempt hearing in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona, took an unexpected turn.

Maricopa County’s well-known Sheriff Joe Arpaio was on the stand, testifying about his department’s claimed violation of court orders in a racial-profiling case, according to the Arizona Republic.

But then U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow began asking Arpaio about a Phoenix New Times article last year. It reported the sheriff had arranged for an investigation of what the New Times called “a bizarre conspiracy theory that the DOJ and Snow have conspired to somehow ‘get’ Joe Arpaio,” as the civil-rights case by the U.S. Department of Justice against the sheriff’s department was ongoing.

Under Snow’s questioning, Arpaio admitted that his former lawyer had indeed hired a private investigator to look into a tipster’s claim that Snow’s wife had met the tipster at a restaurant and had said the judge “wanted to do everything to make sure” Arpaio was not elected.

“Results confirmed that your wife was in that restaurant,” Arpaio told Snow, saying that he believed the investigator had “talked to the witness, confirmed that that remark was made.”

Arpaio’s office has previously investigated political opponents and state-court judges, leading to criminal charges against some that were eventually dropped, legal settlements and an ongoing DOJ lawsuit over abuse-of-power allegations against Arpaio, according to the Associated Press and an earlier post.

Related coverage: “US ‘Pattern or Practice’ Suit Says Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Office Discriminated Against Latinos” “Sheriff Arpaio seeks closed-door meeting to avoid contempt hearing in racial-profiling case” “Federal judge in racial profiling case scolds Sheriff Arpaio’s deputy over ‘double dealing’”

Arizona Republic: “Deputy: Arpaio told me to defy court order”

See also:

ABA Journal: “The Prosecutor on Trial: Ex-Maricopa County Attorney Faces Disbarment for Political Acts”

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