Arpaio's End Game: Judge Snow Sets the Sheriff's Contempt Hearing for April, but Joe Has Some Tricks Up His Sleeve
Arpaio: A slow decline seems inevitable
Would it surprise you one iota if I told you that Sheriff Joe Arpaio has boasted of investigating federal Judge G. Murray Snow and his family, according to some very credible sources?
I doubt it, particularly if you've been in Maricopa County for any length of time and have not had your head up a camel's hindquarters.
After all, this is the same sheriff who has a 22-year history of ginning up criminal charges against his enemies, opening their mail, tailing them, investigating them on bogus accusations, arresting them without cause, implicating them in bizarre conspiracy theories, and otherwise violating their civil rights under the color of law.
A comprehensive list of individuals subjected to one or more of these tactics by Arpaio's office over the years would rival an Edward Snowden-like data dump.
I'm kidding, but not by much.
Here's a partial list: former county Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, former county supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, former County Attorney Rick Romley, and, of course, this paper's former co-owners, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.
You could even include President Barack Obama, because Arpaio went after him on the birther nuttery, as well as the son and daughter-in-law of U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, targeted in the Green Acre farce.
So a federal judge? Pshaw. That would be nothing to ol' Joe.
In fact, last June, I detailed how Arpaio was using tens of thousands of dollars meant for confidential informants to pay infamous Seattle scammer Dennis Montgomery to investigate a paranoid fantasy of a plot by Snow, the U.S. Department of Justice, and outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to "get" Joe.
Back then, I reported that Montgomery had been paid around $100,000 for his services so far. As his work for the MCSO continues, that figure is likely much higher now.
The MCSO has denied my records requests related to Arpaio's payments to Montgomery, the purchase of computer equipment for him, and air-plane flights and hotel rooms for MCSO deputies to babysit the guy.
Over and over again, I have been informed that the denial was because of an "ongoing criminal investigation."
Since June, the number of high-level sources confirming different aspects of the original report has increased.
Sources have informed me that the MCSO had banker's boxes of material that Montgomery produced, supposedly to back up the vague conspiracy theory.
There also are allegations that involved third parties attempting to hack either the DOJ's e-mails, Judge Snow's e-mails, or both.
I'm not saying I'm buying everything my sources tell me. But too much of what they have tipped me to heretofore has turned out to be correct.
Now, along come two more reliable sources, both telling me that Arpaio's bragged about how he's investigating Snow, his wife, Cheri, and an already-vetted Snow family link to the law firm of Covington & Burling, which represents (along with the ACLU) the plaintiffs in the big racial-profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio.
As you know, Arpaio and his office were found guilty of widespread racial profiling in 2013 and are under the judge's order and the watchful eye of Snow's appointed monitor, Robert Warshaw.
Arpaio and some of his henchmen face civil, and possibly criminal, contempt charges for a persistent pattern of thumbing their noses at the court's dictates. Snow has scheduled a hearing for April 21 to 25 to explore civil contempt violations.
At a dramatic December hearing, where Arpaio and his criminal attorney, Mel McDonald, appeared before Snow, the judge said criminal sanctions were "a very real possibility" if he cannot find a civil remedy and is forced to enlist the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute the case.
In the face of the upcoming hearing in April, what's a sheriff to do?
Pull out a page from his old playbook, evidently.
Because Melendres has been going on since 2007, only serious students of the case will recall an issue regarding Snow's brother-in-law, attorney Keith Teel, who is a partner at the Washington, D.C. branch of Covington & Burling, which took over representing the plaintiffs from the firm Steptoe & Johnson in 2010.
When his brother-in-law's firm entered the case, Snow has said that he considered whether this connection presented a conflict of interest.
Snow decided that since Teel doesn't work on Melendres or derive any real benefit from it, no recusal was required.
In 2012, the plaintiffs raised the issue of Teel, so Snow held a status conference, where he noted that "all parties argued that recusal in this matter was neither mandated nor appropriate."
Indeed, Arpaio was quoted in the Arizona Republic as stating that he had no problem with Snow as judge.
"I'm confident in this judge and the judicial system, and I'm not asking for the judge to be removed from this case," Arpaio said.
What's changed? Well, Arpaio long since has lost the case and is staring down the double barrel of possible civil and criminal charges.
A third source has told me that Snow's wife allegedly said some things about her husband's despising Arpaio, thus prompting the investigation.
How Arpaio would know this is not yet known.
I asked the MCSO whether it was investigating Judge Snow or his wife.
An MCSO spokesman issued a seemingly categorical denial.
"We are not and have not investigated any member of the Snow family," MCSO Lieutenant Brandon Jones told me.
The problem with that statement? One high-level source has told me the MCSO has farmed out the investigation of Snow's wife to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
Questioned about this, MCAO spokesman Jerry Cobb told me that his office could not "confirm, deny, or comment on possible investigations by our office or any other agency."
Something else, shortly after my initial piece ran in June, I asked one MCSO source what the reaction was to my article.
This individual told me that MCSO brass believed there was a leak they had to plug, an indication I'm on the right track.
Thing is, Arpaio's alleged gambit has a precedent.
Back in 2009, then-U.S. District Court Judge Mary Murguia was the judge in Melendres, and Arpaio's attorney claimed that Murguia was biased because her twin sister Janet was president of the National Council of La Raza, which had been critical of the sheriff.
Murguia, now on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, disagreed but recused herself anyway.
Snow later was assigned the case.
Even if Joe pulls the conflict-of-interest card and it fails, he would taint the April proceedings in the minds of his followers.
Judge Snow is corrupt, the sheriff's supporters will cry. Part of a plot to railroad their hero.
Sound familiar? It is eerily reminiscent of the line regurgitated endlessly by the guy who once played Bonnie to Arpaio's Clyde: disbarred former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who last year spent three-quarters of a million dollars in Clean Elections cash to score a mere 8 percent of the electorate in the GOP primary for governor.
A few years back, Thomas was co-Sith Lord with Arpaio, hunting judges, filing RICO suits, having a grand ol' time.
Now he's a crazy blogger for a site no one reads and a former candidate who can't get double digits in a primary.
Thomas' disbarment put the wooden stake through his political heart.
Holding Arpaio in civil and/or criminal contempt could have a similar effect on the sheriff's career.
Also bearing down on Joe is the DOJ's ongoing lawsuit against him, which is far broader, includes abuse-of-power allegations, and probably will end in the DOJ's favor, with the federal courts' essentially reducing Arpaio to a harmless figurehead over an agency they control.
Meanwhile, expect shenanigans aplenty from Joe's camp as we inch toward what I hope will be the MCSO's cruelest month.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.