Former Sheriff of Maricopa Country Arizona – Joe Arpaio, is – depending upon who you speak to in Arizona, either loved or hated. He’s seen as either “America’s Toughest Sheriff”, a racist – or a public official who came to believe the office was less about protect and serve than about serving his ego.
Then there are those who are of the belief that the Judge’s order that he disregarded and disobeyed, was unreasonable and improper and that Joe was in his rights to decide not to enforce it. Mr. Arpaio did ignore it and wound up being prosecuted and convicted as a consequence.
Some, including Arpaio’s defense attorney are reporting a narrative about the trial that would almost persuade you to believe that they are referring to a different trial than the one Arpaio was the defendant in. Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court in violating a court order to cease and desist in ordering his deputies to conduct immigration enforcement.
Arpaio’s conviction was based on a lawsuit filed a decade ago, in which the judge in the case, G. Murray Snow, issued an order forbidding Arpaio’s deputies to detain individuals solely based on suspicion of their immigration status, without an accompanying violation of a state law.
The initial suit related to a traffic stop in 2007, based on Sheriff Arpaio’s department policies.
A Mexican national with a valid Visa, not an illegal alien, was detained for 9 hours.
In Snow’s order to Arpaio, the judge stated, “states do not have the inherent authority to enforce the civil provisions of federal immigration law.”
Snow instructed the Sheriff to cease the practice of holding anyone without suspicion of a state or federal crime, because being present in the United States without documentation is neither a state or federal crime, but a civil violation and the purview of federal authorities. For the sake of clarity on this, entering the U.S. without authorization is a crime.
In the contempt trial, evidence presented in court included some video of a training session in which Arpaio’s chief deputy called Snow’s injunction “ludicrous” and “crap.” Snow noted that on the videotape the chief deputy and Arpaio are seen directing deputies not to take seriously the court’s order instructing the department to document the race and ethnicity of individuals they stop.
Other facts before the court, included Arpaio’s declaration on Fox News in April 2012, that, “I will never give in to control by the federal government,” and telling PBS Newshour later that month, “I’m still going to do what I’m doing. I’m still going to arrest illegal aliens coming into this country.”
Snow’s order was upheld by an appeals court. Arpaio openly dismissed and flaunted those orders – which eventually found him in another judge’s courtroom – that of United States District Judge Susan R. Bolton. This time Arpaio was being tried for contempt of court for defying Judge Snow’s order. Judge Snow, in her decision to convict Arpaio, stated:
“Not only did Defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.”
One of the former Sheriff’s trial attorneys, Jack Wilenchik, in an opinion piece published in the Arizona Republic, argued that Judge Snow’s 2011 order “was not clear and definite, and Judge Bolton did not adequately address that.” Wilenchek also complained about Bolton not affording Arpaio a jury trial.
In the hearings, Mr. Arpaio’s lawyers allowed their client to attempt to pawn the non-observance of Judge Snow’s order off on subordinates. Judge Bolton did not buy it – noting the numerous occasions when, for political reasons, Arpaio publicly scoffed at the ruling and pledged to his supporters to continue racial profiling and conducting unlawful detentions.
What about Arpaio’s attorneys’ claims that their client was improperly denied a jury trial? It just doesn’t stand up. There is a body of prior case law including Baldwin v. New York (1970), that establishes that there is no Constitutional requirement for a court to grant a jury trial in a case in which the maximum sentence is “not longer than six months”.
Many of the arguments against Arpaio’s conviction and justifications for Trump’s pardon, ring hollow to me.
Whether Joe Arpaio agreed with a judge’s ruling or not – it is not his call to disobey or ignore it, and he did both. Once that behavior is reinforced, the rule of law is being termite eaten.
I know some will say, “what about illegal aliens?” What about them? They broke the law coming in unbidden – no argument there. Then they ask, “What about Obama not instructing and sufficiently funding the DHS to do sufficient internal enforcement?” Also true to one extent or another.
All of that being said, Sheriff Arpaio was not an illegal alien – he was a law enforcement official and there is no excuse for disobeying a court order that he disagreed with. That makes a mockery of “law and order”.
There are other problems with this. While Joe was shifting his resources toward immigration enforcement, several hundred child abuse / child sexual assault reports and cases were not being investigated and followed up on and arrests made. Worse yet – there was a racial element that appeared to be behind the failure to conduct the investigations.
Arpaio’s department was very mismanaged and poorly run. He spent an inordinate amount of time flitting hither and yon, making political appearances at the expense of having solid situational awareness of what was actually going on in his department. He actually instructed deputies to violate court orders as well.
He also wasted what amounted to millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, conducting punitive investigations against political opponents, all of which led nowhere. And in fact, during the contempt trial, under oath, Arpaio had to admit, according to the Arizona Republic – that the agency employed unreliable informants, private investigators and an unknown amount of public funds to investigate Arpaio’s political enemies.
I’m certain someone will accuse me of wanting to see Joe behind bars. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He is 85 years old and in not the greatest health – so there would be no point in jailing him. His incarceration would have been suspended almost certainly, and that would have been appropriate, with a short probation period. And if that didn’t happen, Trump could have stepped in then and the sentence could have been commuted – not pardoned.
The pardon was illegitimate and premature and amounts to nothing less or more than a cheap political stunt to appease Trump’s base. It also signals that any comments Donald Trump makes about the Constitution or “law and order” are empty platitudes.
As if we didn’t know.