The Arizona Court of Appeals has jumped into the middle of the so-called corruption probe that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas have been attempting to escalate this week.
A three-judge panel of the court issued an order this morning halting Arpaio and Thomas from any attempt to execute a search warrant on the home or the chambers of the county's presiding civil court judge, Barbara Mundell.
Mundell had filed an emergency petition to the appellate court, alleging that she understood the search warrant had been issued yesterday and begging the court to stop it. The stuff the sheriff hopes to obtain with the warrant -- documents and e-mails stored on her work and home computers -- is exactly the information that other courts have twice denied him from accessing, she told the court.
The appellate court rejected a lawsuit from the Sheriff's Office seeking those records in June and then rejected it once again in October.
The Arizona Republic first reported the appellate court's decision this morning.
The decision, issued by justices Maurice Portley, Diane Johnsen, and Lawrence Winthrop, doesn't permanently stop the execution of any existing warrants -- it only stalls them until the court can weigh in.
A telephone conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. today.
The existence of the search warrants on Mundell is the only the latest escalation in Thomas and Arpaio's war against the county judiciary. Two days ago, the pair announced that they'd filed criminal charges -- three felonies -- against the county's presiding criminal court judge, Gary Donahoe. Donahoe's only crime appears to be issuing a number of rulings that the pair disagree with.
Really, the way things are going, we fear for the three judges on the appellate panel who issued the order to "stay" the warrants this morning. The Sheriff's Office has shown twice already just how desperate they are to read Barbara Mundell's e-mail.
They've also shown their willingness to arrest anyone who disagrees with them. We'd hardly be surprised to see armed deputies storm the appellate court building and take everybody away in handcuffs.
We only wish we were joking.