Sheriff Arpaio Contempt of Court Hearing

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The contempt of court hearing has started for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Paul Charlton, former United States Attorney and partner at the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson talks about the hearing.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. This week, the contempt of court hearing started for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The sheriff is accused of violating court orders and racial profiling laws, here to talk about the lawsuit is former United States attorney and a partner at the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson, Paul Charlson welcome to Horizonte.

Jose Cardenas: As we go to air, this show is taped a little early, two days of testimony. One of those days containing at least an hour's testimony from the sheriff. Bring us up to date on what we've heard so far.

Paul Charlton: This is the second day now of testimony, we can expect a third and perhaps a fourth day. There have been a number of deputies who have testified so far. Sheriff Joe Arpaio testified for about an hour. The issue is, has the sheriff's office, the sheriff and his chief Jerry Sheridan, violated the court's order related to this civil lawsuit. And in particular, Jose, what's of great interest to the public and the judge in particular, did he violate these orders willfully.

Jose Cardenas: I think people have trouble with the sheriff and his deputies saying, we admit, let's not have a hearing, we're wasting taxpayer money by going forward on this. Which on the surface seems like a reasonable proposal. Why didn't the judge accept that.

Paul Charlton: It was a tactically sound maneuver by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Mr. Sheridan's lawyers. Because the expectation was we are likely to be found to have violated the court's order, at least the office is. The only issue is did we do so willfully, did we intend to violate the judge's orders. If we did so because we delegated outer authority, people below us didn't follow our wishes, perhaps there's a civil remedy, a fine perhaps. That's what the sheriff's office, the sheriff in particular hopes that the judge will find. That's why they were willing to admit to at least that degree of violation. What they want to avoid was a finding by the judge that they willfully violated the court order, because that carries with it the risk of criminal contempt, and that carries the risk of incarceration.

Jose Cardenas: You're not directly involved in this matter. But do you think it was good judgment by the plaintiff's lawyers not to accept the stipulation because admitting the violation, the sheriff is willing to pay between him and his deputy $100,000 out of their own pockets for a civil rights organization. Yet the plaintiffs said no, we want to go forward.

Paul Charlton: If the expectation is that punishment, and incarceration may be a better outcome than paying a fine, I would say it was sound decision. We want to hear, your honor, what the evidence is and we want to hear from Sheriff Joe Arpaio personally.

Jose Cardenas: Is it going the way plaintiffs may have hoped?

Paul Charlton: It's certainly not going the way Sheriff Joe Arpaio would have hoped. There was testimony from one of his deputies who had a leadership role who was responsible for stopping people who were here without authorization. The sergeant told the judge I talked to Sheriff Joe Arpaio personally, told him we had detained unauthorized aliens and with toed release them. The sheriff said, I want you to hold them. He told the sheriff, that's a violation of the court's orders and you are giving me an unlawful order and I refuse to obey that. That's the kind of evidence that the plaintiffs would have hoped for and Sheriff Arpaio would have hoped was never heard.

Jose Cardenas: The cross-examination revealed this is a deputy that's been maybe passed over for promotion and has possibly a motive to paint the sheriff in a bad light. How effective do you think that may have been?

Paul Charlton: If the judge finds this was a willful violation, he will turn it over to the U.S. Attorney's office. That's the entity who has the responsibility of prosecuting the case if Judge Snow believes there is a willful violation. All of that will be part of the ingredient for Judge Snow. This isn't a case where Judge Snow needs to beyond a reasonable doubt that the sheriff violated his orders. It'll be up to the prosecutor later on to prove if appropriate that Sheriff Joe Arpaio violated this order willfully.

Jose Cardenas: The other big development on the first day was Tom Liddy, one of the lawyers defending the county and the sheriff for years now says I have to withdraw, I've got a conflict of interest. The decision today or the second day by the judge that okay, you're not going to be the lead but you're going to participate. What do you think is going on there?

Paul Charlton: An interesting request by Mr. Liddy, a bit of a nuanced one. Mr. Liddy argued there was some issue with relation to which entity he could represent for the county, in legal terms what is known as a jural entity. He argued he could no longer represent the sheriff's office because of this legal personal account. The judge said I'm not going let you out completely. So Mr. Liddy was in court today assisting in the defense of Joe Arpaio to a limited degree.

Jose Cardenas: With the sheriff finally on the stand observers said he seemed to be pretty low key, one-word answers. Also a suggestion he was dodging the questions to the point where the judge said you need to be more responsive.

Paul Charlton: Not unusual for this judge. He has two pat answers: I don't recall, or I delegated this to individuals below me.

Jose Cardenas: He paints himself as kind of a defiant blustering guy at least in the public.

Paul Charlton: Those are two very different images. The kind of person you see at a press conference who likes to portray himself as very much in charge, and the one in court who says I give everybody else responsibility for running the office. Those are completely different characters.

Jose Cardenas: Was there anything remarkable in the testimony?

Paul Charlton: Nothing particularly remarkable, except to say yes, these orders of yours, Judge Snow, were in fact violated. We didn't follow the orders set out but I thought others were taking care of it, I was following the directions of my lawyers. He was deflecting the responsibility to those below him and to his lawyers.

Jose Cardenas: He doesn't seem to be accepting personal blame.

Paul Charlton: That's correct. I think his lawyers were trying to get the judge and the lawyers to buy off on that, allow him to admit the sheriff's office violated the orders but not that he did so willfully.

Jose Cardenas: A couple more days of testimony, the sheriff isn't done. What else are we likely to hear?

Paul Charlton: I think we will hear much more testimony from Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other individuals in leadership positions within that agency. Mr. Sheridan has yet to testify, I'd be very interested to know who had responsibility for enacting the judge's orders. And finally the decision of the judge, the final decision here as to what appropriate sanction should be meted out here. Is the judge going to say, I'm satisfied a civil remedy will take place, we're going to order you not to do this again. Or is the judge going to say, I think there is sufficient evidence that you willfully violated the orders.

Jose Cardenas: A ways to go. We'll talk about where we're at when we get to the end of this.

Paul Charlton: Thanks for having me.

Jose Cardenas: Thanks for joining us.

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Paul Charlton:Former United States Attorney and Partner, Steptoe and Johnson Law Firm;

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