Tim Casey, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's longtime lawyer, wants out of the hot-potato Melendres racial-profiling case now that it's in a "compliance phase."
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona don't want him to leave so fast, though -- not with questions and things left to discover related to corrupt deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz, who hung himself in May rather than submit to arrest.
The Armendariz probe is a spin-off of the Melendres case, which concluded at the trial-court level last year when U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found that the MCSO under Arpaio had committed racial profiling against Hispanics. His conclusion added to a similar, damning finding by the U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Since then, Arpaio's shop has been placed under the eyes of Robert Warshaw, a court-appointed federal monitor. But Warshaw most-recent report shows that Arpaio is having trouble complying with Snow's 2013 order.
On Friday, Casey, James Williams and the law firm of Schmitt Schneck Smyth Casey & Even, P.C., submitted a motion to Snow, asking to be allowed to withdraw from the long-running case. Noting that the application for withdrawal includes Arpaio's signature, Casey's motion states that he and the firm should be able to depart without too much trouble.
The withdrawal can be accomplished "without unfair prejudice" to the defendants because a judgement has been entered in the case and "the litigation is in the compliance process" with court orders.
"The compliance process is in its initial stages and expected to continue for some unknown period of time," the motion says, adding that co-counsel Tom Liddy and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office have been "capably" helping with the case since 2010.
The ACLU says Casey needs to stick around a while longer.
Attorney Cecillia Wang of the ACLU Foundation's Immigrants' Rights Project filed a response on Monday to Casey's motion, asking that "the Court delay the withdrawal of the Schmitt firm for a limited time period and for a limited purpose..."
Wang says Casey's firm has been involved deeply in the development and execution of the new, mandatory training for Sheriff's Office employees, pointing out that many questions have arisen about the training, and much work is left to be done.
Even more interesting, though, is Wang's second objection to Casey quitting the case: the production of documents by MCSO into the spin-off investigation of Armendariz and "related investigations by MCSO."
Armendariz, who was 40 when he killed himself, was a key figure in the Melendres case. An openly gay, bilingual El Paso native, he was a hard-working deputy on Arpaio's human-smuggling unit, making shady busts of Arizona's Hispanic citizens for blaring Spanish music and rounding up illegal immigrants for nonexistent crimes. While that may not be unusual behavior for one of Arpaio's deputies, Armendariz seems to have gone completely rogue before his death.
As fellow New Times writer Stephen Lemons wrote in May:
The PPD alerted the MCSO, whose detectives saw marijuana and drug paraphernalia in an MCSO evidence bag, according to an account filed with the search warrant.
While Armendariz was taken to a hospital for an evaluation, the MCSO searched his home, uncovering property bags containing what's believed to be cocaine, meth, heroin, and LSD.
There were multiple boxes of criminal citations, with evidence bags never submitted to the court.
Some of the bags bore Armendariz's name and dated back to 2007, when he became a deputy. There also were more than 100 license plates "from unknown vehicles" and "hundreds" of driver's licenses, ID cards, passports, credit cards, and wallets.
It's been speculated that Armendariz shook down illegal immigrants and that other MCSO deputies also were involved.
That speculation is supported by 900 hours of video that Armendariz shot while out performing traffic stops and potential shakedowns.
Casey's planned departure from Melendres v. Arpaio also comes at a time when Judge Snow appears to be increasingly frustrated with Arpaio's flippancy toward his orders.
Following Arpaio's comments that he'd do his 2008 sweep in the town of Guadalupe over again if he could, Snow told Casey in a hearing last week, "I can't ignore things he says when they're directly as provocative as they are."
Casey told Snow Arpaio's comments shouldn't be taken into account. But the judge replied that the comments do matter.
Perhaps Casey doesn't want to be around if Arpaio gets thrown in jail for contempt.
Neither Casey nor Wang returned calls by New Times this morning. As Wang's motion notes, Casey hasn't offered an explanation for why he wants to go.
Arpaio did get back to us, though, saying in a written statement that he and Casey were spitting in Melendres under a "mutual agreement" to do so.
"Mr. Casey's expertise is as a trial attorney," says Arpaio, or whoever wrote the statement for him. "Now that the trial is over, and we have moved to the compliance phase of the court order, we both believe the Sheriff's Office will be better served by legal representation with that kind of specific proficiency to assist us through the stages of compliance."
Don't worry -- it's all for the best.
Casey's apparently still working on other MCSO cases -- at least, Allen didn't say he wasn't. Arpaio already has another lawyer working on the appeal of Snow's Melendres ruling -- Eileen Dennis GilBride of the firm Jones, Skelton, Hochuli.
If you think "compliance" and "appeal" are mutually exclusive terms on a common-sense level, you could be right. Recently, Arpaio's office told the U.S. Department of Justice to quit its racial-profiling lawsuit because it was complying with Snow's 2013 order. Justice Department lawyers, noting Arpaio's ongoing appeal in Melendres , remarked in court records that it seemed Arpaio was trying to pull a classic "bait-and-switch" maneuver.
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