County Attorney Rick Romley discusses immigration enforcement and other issues facing his office.
José Cárdenas :
Thank you for joining us, I'm Jose Cardenas. Back in April, Rick Romley returned to the position of Maricopa County attorney, a job he held for 16 years. The Maricopa County board of supervisors selected Romley to succeed Andrew Thomas, who resigned to run for state attorney general. Romley has outlined a strategy to fight illegal immigration and focus on the most violent criminals. He says he will create a new organized crime devision to focus on human smuggling, drug running, drug trafficking, and violent crimes. Joining us to talk about this and other issues is Maricopa County attorney Rick Romley.
Rick Romley: Good evening.
José Cárdenas :Welcome back. You've been on the show before, but it's been a while. Different positions. What made you go back to being county attorney?
Rick Romley: You know, it may sound a bit corny, but the truth of the matter is, I was concerned about a loss of trust in that particular office with all that had been going on for the previous years. Individual were asking me to come back to restore some stability, and restore confidence and integrity. And as simple as that is, I care deeply about that office. It's an important office. It's one that individuals in the community rely upon and we can't have that loss of trust. I think it has major ramifications, and I'm just trying to restore that trust and some stability.
José Cárdenas : Well, a lot of that turmoil that you're referring to has been within the last couple of years. If this opportunity had presented itself two years ago, three years ago, would you have taken it?
Rick Romley: Probably not. Probably not. I mean, I care deeply about the office, but I've been in Service for 16 years, if it was going well, I probably would have allowed other individuals to continue on and succeed and take it to different levels.
José Cárdenas : What do you see as the biggest single source of that diminishment or that loss of trust?
Rick Romley: I think the political infighting, the perceptions that the office is utilizing its authority, its power for political investigations. Making allegations of corruptions with the entire court system, judiciary. I think that without being able to show any type of evidence that it really was a serious problem, I think that that is when it really started when they started utilizing their law enforcement powers to investigate the judiciary board members and yet not seem to prevail in court.
José Cárdenas : Have you taken any specific temperatures to remedy this loss of trust or to develop a better relationship with the supervisors and with the judiciary?
Rick Romley: Immediately. And that's probably going to be one of the easiest things to restore. I find the judiciary, the board of supervisors, they're yearning to start working together again and do the public's business. And to stop this infighting. It seems like we're fighting more among ourselves than the bad guys. I met with the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court as well as the new presiding judges, we are starting to have regular meetings to do things we can in concert work on, things that are administrative in nature, as everybody knows, we're adverse in court cases, but there's things that we have a common interest in. Good computer systems, the buildings and so forth. The board of supervisors, I meet with them regularly. I try to give them good, sage counsel. It's as simple as going up and talking to them and making myself available. For the issues that they have to deal with. It's that simple, and it's been very, very effective, and a lot of it is due to the people that I brought on. Jim Keppel, my former chief deputy once, he has great respect in the system. Good people that I've been able to recruit in have made it easier.
José Cárdenas : Now, you announced a number of new areas of focus and areas that you're going to deemphasize. Immigration being one of them. Give us an outline.
Rick Romley: You know, if you look at the last four years, the emphasis, the priorities have been to focus upon those undocumented workers that generally are just working here. I mean, I did a statistical analysis and in the four years Mr. Thomas was in office and worked with the sheriff to do the sweeps, you know, the round-ups they were doing, less than 4% of those individuals were involved in any other criminal activity other than just being here. That's it. So basically they were going after people that were here just working. And when I began to look at the other side of it, the violence that was occurring, I felt that there needed to be a shifting of the priorities away from that type of enforcement, because they -- they weren't hurting our community. And we're going to start putting a strong emphasis upon those committing crimes in our community, burglarizing our homes, robbing individuals, to go after the cartels that are obtaining a stronger foothold within Maricopa County and the entire state of Arizona. I think that's our number one priority, to protect the public. And I'm shifting it in that direction.
José Cárdenas : You made some rather strong statements when you announced this new area of focus. Not simply that that may not have been a good use of resources, but it allowed the cartel and other -- organized crime, really, in many respects, to flourish and to step into the vacuum created because of this -- what I think you would call a misallocation of resources.
Rick Romley: That's correct. You said it very well. This is not me, it's the intelligence reports that have -- I've been reading since I've been back in the office. The department of justice clearly states that by focusing upon those day laborers, the bus boys or people just here working, there has been this vacuum that's been created and the cartels, they love it. Let's be honest. Nobody is paying attention to them. And so they are trying to expand their base outside of Mexico, they're trying to -- they are beginning to collaborate with say, for example, prison gangs, the Mexican mafia. They have a stronger foothold and a stronger base of operations here in the United States. That's not acceptable. We need to let them know that they're -- we're going to focus upon them. That's not just me saying it, that's the true intelligence reports that are coming out of the department of justice.
José Cárdenas : How can you, as the county attorney, have an effective impact those areas when the sheriff has announced and made it clear he intends to focusing on the day laborers and so forth and making them the focus of his efforts. He just announced he's going to have another crime sweep, as he calls them, on the day that SB 1070 goes into effect.
Rick Romley: You know, there's no way the county attorney can instruct the sheriff or any police department that this is the way we should be doing things. What I hope to do is through the power of persuasion, the sheriff seems to be very committed to be doing the sweeps. But the truth of the matter S. there's 26 other police departments in Maricopa County, and my meetings with them, my conversations with them, other than the sheriff, they all seem to be unanimous that this is the right way to go. And it's -- we're beginning to -- look at ways we can enhance our sharing of intelligence through automation, enhancing -- this is an inside lingo, the fusion center, there's many intelligence databases that we need to enhance to make our job easier so we can target these individuals. Other than the sheriff, it has been great to be working with law enforcement, because they are literally unanimous that that's where we should be putting our focus.
José Cárdenas : Now, I want to talk about some of the other exchanges you've had with the sheriff. One of them relates to your announcement as to how you were going to handle human smuggling. & immigration related activities.
Rick Romley: Well, under the Thomas administration, they had been filing charges on conspiring to smuggle one self into the United States and had been proceeding on it. That's a class four felony. No other county attorney in Arizona had utilized that statute at all. And it's legally permissible, it is legally permissible, but I think most agree this was kind of a contortion of the laws to try to get somewhere when there was no law on the books. When senate bill 1070 was passed, the legislature made a specific crime on this particular issue, and they defined what that crime should be. And it's a class one misdemeanor. So I shall no longer be enforcing it as the way Mr. Thomas did if a case comes in and there's a legally sufficient evidence to prosecute a case, it shall be filed under senate bill 1070's laws.
José Cárdenas : You also announced you're going to handle investigations under the employer sanctions statutes differently than your predecessor. How so?
Rick Romley: The law puts the enforcement power to the county attorney. And the county attorney alone. The county attorney has the ability to ask other law enforcement agencies to help them in this particular function. Historically Mr. Thomas used the sheriff in that manner. I'm going to be bringing it back into my office and keep full control of that. At times I may be asking a department to help me in some ways. But I'm going to take full control of that and handle it probably in a little different way. I think the sheriff and the county attorney were looking at it as -- they kind of said there's bad employers out there, and we need to find them and root them out. T.V. cameras are following the raids that are going on. I take a different viewpoint. I think the business is here -- the businesses here want to follow the law. And I'm going to try to develop programs that help educate them to provide them assistance. If they willfully violate it, I will go after it. But I'm going to take an approach that the business community is a partner for us. They're an essential partner, especially in this economic downturn. They don't need cameras coming into their shop, you know, when we don't even know thisF they're guilty of any particular crime. It's not the right way to create -- to foster a healthy business community environment.
José Cárdenas : You've made several references to SB 1070. Were you an early critic, you have since had that you will implement it and defend it if challenged in court. Any inconsistency in those positions?
Rick Romley: No, I don't think so. Look. When I urge the governor to veto it, I had a serious concern as to some of the legal issues that were tied to it. She went ahead and signed it, interestingly enough, a trailer bill followed and corrective -- corrected several of the things. I still think there's particular problems. But I think once that is -- becomes law, the debate is over as to whether it's good policy or not. And the county attorney, the attorney general, they have a duty to enforce that law unless they believe it's clearly unconstitutional. I don't think it's clearly unconstitutional. I think there's still some legal issues. But I have that duty. And I take the oath seriously. The debate is over.
José Cárdenas : You've announced you intend to create a standardized response or implementation of the statute, working with your counterparts in other counties and law enforcementment what have you done so far?
Rick Romley: We've had several meetings with the other prosecutors, and we're going through the bill in great detail, and in fact you can't just read the bill to figure out what is required. You've got to read the alien registration act of 1940, which they refer to, which is a federal provision. And you've got to dig into that, and look at those requirements, and we're coming to some unanimity as to some of the things that will be required if you are going to be prosecuting under these -- this law.
José Cárdenas : Tensions have risen because of the announcement of the law, and as we get closer to the implementation, other things may or may not happen. But there's one incident that is already occurred, and that was the shooting, there's some recent developments in that case, of Mr. Varella.
Rick Romley: You're right. I have got to say, I think one of the things I think that concern me the most is the approach that we as policy leaders take in the development of laws on complex serious issues such as immigration enforcement. It's very, very important, and I'm a bit worried that the law that has been passed is going to enhance tensions. We have seen already the tensions rise to some degree. Unfortunately after the passage and signing of senate bill 1070, a horrible tragic situation occurred where an Hispanic man was out in his yard, and legally here, his family had been here Nouri al-Malikius generations, and his neighbor came out, had been drinking, and shot him in the neck and killed him, and several people overheard a comment made basically, "go back to Mexico." And we filed notice to the court that we're listing racial prejudice as an aggravating factor for the court to consider if he's convicted.
José Cárdenas : Mr. Romley, we're just about out of time. Last question -- what do you see in the upcoming weeks as we get closer to the implementation, the effective date of SB 1070?
Rick Romley: I think what you're going to be seeing, you're going to start seeing the details emerge as to how we're going to try to implement this law. We've talked about it in generic general terms. I think you're going to see more details. I know when I'm out speaking to organizations, they're very surprised that quite honestly they're misdemeanors. Most of the cases won't even come to my office. They'll be going to city prosecutors. They're surprised at that type of thing. I think as you see the other details of some of the requirements here, I think there's going to be an education process that grows. I think there's going to be numerous court challenges, it's going to be a flurry of new developments that will emerge between now and July 29th, I think.
José Cárdenas : And hopefully we'll be able to get you back to discuss those.
Rick Romley: Any time at all.
José Cárdenas : Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."