Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's request for a court-appointed defense lawyer merely seeks to clarify if a federal judge thinks he really needs one.
That's according to Jack MacIntyre, a deputy chief and spokesman for Arpaio.
As we reported previously, Arpaio's lawyers submitted a court motion to Arizona U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow on Monday, saying Arpaio and other MCSO employees are "entitled to criminal defense counsel."
Snow suggested at a November 20 hearing that Arpaio or his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, might be held in criminal contempt. He believes they're stalling attempts to find out the depths of potential corruption by deceased deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz and possibly other deputies.
Snow stated he'd reached the limits of his patience and was writing a new order to further probe the office. He scheduled a December 4 hearing to go over his planned order, suggesting he may call deputies to testify as witnesses. Snow's inquiry stems from his ruling last year in the Melendres civil-rights case, in which Arpaio's office was found to have racially profiled Hispanics in an attempt to enforce immigration law.
Because of the possibility of criminal charges, county lawyer Tom Liddy and hired outside counsel Michele Iafrate write in their motion, Snow should appoint a defense lawyer.
Yet Arpaio doesn't actually want a court-appointed lawyer, MacIntyre insists.
"The judge made some fairly scathing statements in court," he says. Liddy and Iafrate's motion is "an attempt to find clarification in the judge's order. If you're going to represent your client even slightly avidly, you've got to know what you're facing."
The county won't provide defense lawyers for employees accused of crimes, leaving Arpaio without representation, MacIntyre says, adding that county officials have no idea whether Arpaio or any other county employee is, in fact, being accused by the judge of contempt.
Iafrate, who took over as lead counsel in Melendres after lawyer Tim Casey withdrew, can't simply tell the judge, "I don't understand," MacIntyre insists. Asking Snow to appoint a defense counsel should cause Snow to clarify whether he's actually accusing someone of contempt, MacIntyre says.
If the judge actually grants the request and appoints a lawyer, the case would likely be split into two -- one side civil, as it's been so far, the other side criminal, and the new defense lawyer, whoever it may be, would call for a immediate delay to any criminal-case proceedings, he says.
Arpaio hasn't been ordered to attend the December 4 hearing -- just invited, MacIntyre says. And he hasn't been formally accused of any crime, so why bring a criminal defense lawyer to the table? MacIntyre's point is that, instead of appointing a lawyer, Judge Snow may say neither Arpaio nor other MCSO employees need a defense lawyer.
Stay tuned this week -- this could get even more interesting.
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