Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio wants a federal judge to appoint him a criminal defense lawyer in case he's charged with contempt.
Citing a threat of contempt charges at a November 20 court hearing, two of Arpaio's lawyers write in a motion filed today that neither they, nor County Attorney Bill Montgomery, have the power to defend Arpaio against criminal charges.
"Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office respectfully request the Court to make a determination as to counsel prior to [a] December 4, 2014 hearing," states the motion by Tom Liddy of the County Attorney's Office, and Arpaio's hired gun, private lawyer Michele Iafrate.
In the motion, Arpaio, so-called America's Toughest Sheriff, elected six times by the people of Maricopa County and having served for more than two decades, comes off sounding like one of the nickel-bag suspects Arpaio used to bust as a drug agent.
Recall that all of this stems from the Melendres racial-profiling case, which has evolved into a fact-finding investigation by Judge Snow into potential corruption by deputies with Arpaio's Human Smuggling Unit.
"At the November 20, 2014 hearing, this Court indicated its willingness to pursue civil and/or criminal contempt against Sheriff Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and/or the MCSO's members in connection with implementing the Court's Orders. The Court further scheduled the December 4, 2014 hearing to investigate the matter...
"The Court issued its Order regarding the hearing ... and then modified the Order, specifically requesting that a representative of the United States Attorney's Office attend.
"Should the Court pursue criminal contempt or a criminal investigation, Sheriff Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and the MCSO members are entitled to criminal defense counsel. Undersigned counsel was retained through the Maricopa County Attorney, William Montgomery for civil representation only... "
Liddy and Iafrate then note the county attorney's powers as defined by state law.
"Montgomery does not have the power to defend a criminal investigation or criminal contempt," the motion goes on to state. "Because Mr. Montgomery does not have this authority, likewise undersigned counsel does not have this power."
The lawyers mention that on November 21, Iafrate was assigned by Bill Montgomery as lead counsel in the Melendres case. That must have something to do with the previous lead counsel, Timothy Casey, wanting out of the case.
Yet Iafrate's powers as Arpaio's representative "likewise do not include the ability to defend clients in criminal contempt proceedings or criminal investigations.
"If the Court intends to pursue criminal contempt proceedings or a criminal investigation, the individuals should receive full constitutional protections...
"Because undersigned counsel cannot assist Sheriff Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and the MCSO members, the Court should make a determination as to counsel prior to the December 4, 2014 hearing."
Which all sounds rather serious.
And laughable at the same time. Arpaio doesn't deserve a court-appointed criminal-defense lawyer, does he? Can't he sell some real estate if he's short on cash?
We left messages with Arpaio's office, and the American Civil Liberties Union. We'll update this article if either comment on the motion.
During the November 20 hearing, Judge Snow told Arpaio he'd seen "ample evidence" that Arpaio's office was delaying his inquiries.
In making the statement, the judge was probably thinking to some extent of a recent report by federal monitor Robert Warshaw, who found an MCSO supervisor unwilling to ask smuggling-unit deputies if they've ever "pocketed" things recovered in traffic stops. The court investigation into the smuggling unit and deceased deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz, whose high-profile suicide led to accusations of corruption, follows last year's ruling by Snow that Arpaio's office had discriminated against Hispanics.
UPDATE Tuesday, December 2:
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.
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