More than four years after it was first filed, and more than three years since the American Civil Liberties Union lodged its amended complaint in the case, the big racial profiling lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- Melendres v. Arpaio -- will finally go to trial this summer.
That is, if the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice don't come to some agreement on the same issues first.
In a hearing today, both sides in the lawsuit met to hammer out various pre-trial matters before U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow. After some dickering over dates, Snow scheduled a seven day trial to begin July 19.
Initially, Snow wanted to start the trial earlier, but Arpaio attorney Tim Casey begged off that one, telling the judge that MCSO Deputy Chief Brian Sands, a key witness, already had booked a trip to Europe beginning July 6.
Snow moved back the date, and it looks like Sands will get to see the Eiffel Tower while stuffing his concrete mug full of baguette at long last.
The judge set other ground rules, generally giving each side 20 hours to present its case. He dispensed with opening arguments, noting that there would be no jury and he was painfully familiar with all the pertinent facts.
Later, the judge asked the defense about ongoing talks between the MCSO and the DOJ, noting that an agreement between those parties could "moot all or part of this case."
Currently, the DOJ is in negotiations with the MCSO in an attempt to have the sheriff's office address the Justice Department's December finding that Arpaio's agency engages in widespread racial profiling, as well as a pattern and practice of discrimination against Latinos in its jails.
Casey confirmed that there would be "more detailed discussions" between the MCSO and the DOJ within the next ten days.
His colleague Tom Liddy, representing the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, commented that "the issues in [Melendres] are a very broad subset of those" being addressed by the MCSO-DOJ talks. He told the judge he did not think the parties would seal a deal without informing the court.
The DOJ is well acquainted with what's going on in Melendres. California lawyer Stanley Young, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, revealed that the plaintiffs and the DOJ have a "common interest agreement," allowing them to share information.
Snow also ruled on various motions before him, the most significant being the admission of scores of bigoted letters from Maricopa County residents to Arpaio complaining about Spanish speakers, day laborers, and the presence of Mexicans in general.
The exhibits in question include internal MCSO e-mails, which I first wrote about last year. The e-mails contain various vile, racist jokes and pictures targeting Mexicans.
Arpaio's lawyers had asked that the exhibits not be admitted. Without any discussion, Snow denied their motion.
For the most part, the hearing was a snoozer, with fireworks only occurring after Snow adjourned and reporters gathered outside the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse to lob questions at attorneys for both sides.
Young seemed pleased with the judge's decisions, though Snow delayed ruling on one issue concerning a witness for the defense until he had reviewed it further. The attorney indicated that the plaintiffs had submitted a "proposal" to the sheriff's office regarding a possible settlement, but he declined to give details.
See, the plaintiffs are not suing for damages. Rather, they are looking for an injunction that will force the MCSO to end its racial-profiling ways.
As Young and his team moved on, Casey and Liddy came out, and the journos dogged them for quotes. Asked specifically about the bigoted letters from citizens to Arpaio that would now be used as evidence against the MCSO, Casey conceded that "many were inappropriate" but that Arpaio "never took action" on them.
That is incorrect, as Village Voice Media Editor Michael Lacey observed in his January 12 commentary, "Coddling Joe."
Indeed, one need only look at Judge Snow's December 23 order wherein he sanctioned the defendants for withholding hundreds of documents requested by the plaintiffs.
Snow wrote, in part:
"Sample communications from the public include requests that MCSO conduct special operations in Sun City because the writer heard employees of a restaurant speaking Spanish, that MCSO operate in Surprise because the writer observed `dozens of day workers' there, and that it send officers to Mesa because the writer observed day laborers, `most of whom, I would believe to be here illegally.' Subsequently, MCSO conducted special operations in the locations specified in the communications."
After the TV reporters had their shots at Casey, I followed up, intending to ask him about the communications Snow referenced in his order. Casey asked who I was. I told him, and he went off on how I wasn't a reporter and that I had used invective against him in my column in the past.
Invective? Hey, if the wingtips fit, counselor.
Casey is one of Arpaio's stable of go-to legal beagles, and he makes a ton of dough representing Arpaio. In fact, you could say that the more derelict Arpaio and his boys-in-beige are in their duties, the more cash Casey stands to make in billings to the county due to the resulting lawsuits.
You'd think he'd have a hide like a rhino. But apparently, I hurt his feelings.
As a comeback, I demanded to know how much money in total Casey had made off the Melendres case. He refused to answer my question, and began to walk away. A reporter from ABC 15 asked him to answer my question. He remained mum.
I followed Casey, and kept peppering him with questions, Liddy trailing behind. Casey tried to ignore me, for the most part. But at one point, as we were waiting for a light, he made a motion with his hand and his mouth, his tongue poking against his cheek: the standard, sophomoric hand-signal for oral sex.
The light changed, and I kept pace behind him, asking him to repeat the gesture for my camera phone. He did not comply.
As we were walking up the sidewalk, we brushed against each other. Not even a bump, just a brush of our arms as we both walked briskly. Liddy ran behind us, shouting something about how I should not touch Casey. I thought this was weird, because save for that brush, there was always light between us.
Liddy seemed to be insinuating something, so I turned around and asked him if he was implying that I had assaulted Casey. He said that would be up to the criminal division to decide but that he was a witness.
I've met Liddy before. Generally, I've always gotten along with him. I asked him if brushing up against someone accidentally constituted assault.
To make my point, I put my arm around Liddy's shoulder in a friendly manner and said, "If I come up to you like this, and say, `Hey Tom, how ya been doin'?' is that assault?"
He sort of shrugged. And at this point, I let Liddy and Casey continue on by themselves.
Such was the silly note my day ended on. Though I must admit, my stroll with Casey and Liddy was more fun than the court hearing.