Trials & Litigation

Sheriff Arpaio seeks closed-door meeting to avoid contempt hearing in racial-profiling case

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Just weeks after a federal judge in Arizona scheduled a contempt-of-court hearing for Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a broad-based racial-profiling case, Arpaio’s lawyers have asked for a closed-door settlement conference, KJZZ and 12 News report.

U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled 19 months ago, in a class action filed in 2007, that Arpaio’s office singled out Latinos in traffic and immigration patrols, and the judge’s oversight of measures to end such practices has led to clashes with the sheriff, via lawyers and hearings.

The Arizona Republic reported in January that a series of “fiery hearings, legal filings and stern warnings” prompted the judge to announce that he would pursue possible contempt charges against Arpaio.

In mid-January, the judge scheduled a four-day trial for April to determine whether Arpaio might face civil contempt or criminal contempt. With the latter, the sheriff’s department could face monetary fines. In a criminal matter, it could be fines and jail time.

Judge Snow had ordered the sheriff’s office to completely overhaul its practices, particularly immigration sweeps that discriminated against Latinos. The judge grew increasingly agitated at what he saw as Arpaio’s resistance:

• Failing to turn over certain discovery materials to the plaintiffs concerning traffic stops

• Failure of top officials to instruct rank-and-file deputies of the judge’s order to cease stopping and detaining someone simply on suspicion of being here illegally

• A clear violation of the court’s order in one particular stop by a now former deputy

• Failure to follow the judge’s instructions for recovering any body-camera recordings made by that former deputy

“[Judge Snow] did not waste time clearing his calendar and making sure all attorneys were available for the required evidentiary hearing,” Dan Pochoda, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the Republic last month.

Arpaio’s lawyers issued an apologetic statement at the time, saying the sheriff “readily concedes that mistakes have been made in the communication and, in some instances, implementation of court orders. He genuinely regrets those mistakes, and is committed to working with the court monitor to carry out existing directives and minimize further mistakes.”

In seeking the closed-door conference, Arpaio’s lawyers wrote that it could lead to “productive settlement discussions” and narrow the issues.

The ACLU of Arizona filed a response (PDF) to the request for a closed-door settlement conference, saying the filing was the first it had heard about this, and unless the parties come to an agreement on their own, that the contempt hearing scheduled for April should proceed. 

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