E-mails penned by Maricopa County sheriff's officers -- as well as all other county employees -- will stay for now with Maricopa County officials, and not the Sheriff's Office, a judge has ruled.
At a hearing in Tucson last week, Pima County Superior Court Judge Ted Borek ordered that his preliminary order regarding the e-mails stay "in full force and effect" until a hearing March 29 to discuss the matters further.
That order, which we previously reported on here, rebuffs Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his attempt to seize e-mails from county control. It orders the county instead to "secure" the e-mails, and orders the sheriff to refrain from any "unilateral action" to take them.
The e-mails are at issue in Melendres vs. Arpaio, a lawsuit which alleges that MCSO personnel have been racially profiling Hispanics. Attorneys for Melendres had ordered a "litigation hold" on emails written by the Sheriff's Office, which means they had to be retained longer than the county's usual 28 days, and eventually turned over in the lawsuit.
Sheriff's brass confessed earlier this year that they had failed to take steps to retain the e-mails. It was assumed that the information -- despite the court's order -- was gone for good.
But then came some surprising new info: It turns out that the county had unwittingly been saving all e-mails penned by county officials since the summer of 2008. The data was saved.
Sheriff Arpaio, not surprisingly, was less than thrilled that the court order had been followed, however accidentally. His lawyers questioned why the county had saved the e-mails without the MCSO's consent -- and a top sheriff's commander visited the county's IT department to attempt to seize the e-mail cache.
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At that point, county officials revealed that they'd already shipped the two-year e-mail compilation out of state. They asked for a court order to keep the Sheriff's Office from further attempts to get the info -- which they pointed out, interestingly, already has been requested by the U.S. Attorney, whose office is investigating the MCSO for abuse of power. Booyah!
Judge Borek issued a preliminary order on the county's behalf, which he subsequently agreed to keep in place at last week's hearing. Judge Borek also examined, in camera, a letter from U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, which stated Burke's position on the e-mails.
We can't know what the letter says, but considering that Borek agreed to let the county retain the e-mails for now, we suspect that's exactly the decision Burke requested. (What, the feds don't trust the Sheriff's Office to properly retain the information??? Say it ain't so.)
As always, we'll have more as this story develops.