Joe Arpaio's attorneys say he is upset because he's being branded a racist.
Joe Arpaio's attorneys say he is upset because he's being branded a racist.
Miriam Wasser

Local Lawyers to Arpaio: What Part of 'Rule of Law' Don't You Understand?

Phoenix lawyers organized the best-dressed protest of the summer when they gathered during their lunch break Tuesday to speak out against the presidential pardon for Joe Arpaio.

Lawyers clad in three-piece suits and pencil skirts sweated through this week's excessive heat advisory by taking refuge under the few trees outside the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse.

The fact that the pardon was for criminal contempt made these lawyers' blood boil even more than the triple-digit heat. It's not just that Arpaio broke the law — it's that he willfully disobeyed a court order to do it, they said.

Day in and day out, Adrianne Speas tries to persuade her clients at Krupnik & Speas community association law firm to follow the law, she said. Seeing government officials at the highest level disregard the law and overlook the legal system is discouraging.

"It doesn't matter what type of law you practice or who you are, this country was built on the rule of law," Speas said.

Trump consistently disregards the truth in pursuit of his own political agenda, Speas said. The politics to the Arpaio pardon is an added layer to this controversy, bankruptcy attorney Robert Warnicke said.

"Would Donald Trump have done this for a sheriff in Arizona if it wasn't about immigration?" Warnicke asked. "No. He wouldn't have cared."

This political favor, as criminal defense attorney Benjamin Taylor called it, sends a strong and dangerous message.

"When you see people breaking the law and getting away with it, it hurts the whole legal system," Taylor said.

This pardon, while political in nature, was not reflective of the Republican party or traditional conservative values, former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods said.

"People who are conservative, supposedly, don't want big, powerful government," Woods said. "There is no more powerful act of government than to deprive someone of their liberty. When people do that based upon the color of someone's skin, there isn't a bigger outrage that could be in this country."

Arpaio's pardon is both legal and controversial but surely not unprecedented, although many lawyers present at Tuesday's protest said they had never seen anything like it during their careers.

On Monday, Trump told the nation he stood by his pardon, although he thought it would bring in more ratings despite the announcement coming on a Friday night in the middle of a hurricane.

He continued by shading both the Obama and Clinton administrations with cherry-picked examples of other controversial pardons, including Marc Rich, who was granted clemency after his wife donated to the Clinton Foundation.

However, just because this has happened before, doesn't mean it has ended well.

Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender noted that the pardon for President Richard Nixon after Watergate was seen as a unifying act and a way to move past the government distrust that was created.

This pardon for Arpaio does almost the exact opposite, Bender said. It incited controversy instead of calm.

Nonetheless, Trump said he thinks the people of Arizona, who know Arpaio best, would agree with his decision to let Arpaio off scot-free.

"Sheriff Joe is a patriot," Trump said. "Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders."

The role of racism and the violation of civil rights has been at the center of the Arpaio case from the beginning.

To counteract the backlash, Arpaio's defense team put out a press release on Monday clarifying that Arpaio's guilty verdict was a result of violating a court order based on immigration status — not race.

While this claim is technically correct, many Arizonans did not appreciate the defense team splitting hairs on the issue.

On Monday, the legal team filed a motion for Arpaio to be exonerated of all convictions and for the case to be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the action against Arpaio cannot be brought up again.

Even though there won't be a sentencing hearing, Arpaio's lawyers are still defending the six-term sheriff.

Now, it's solely about reputation.

The self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" is distressed and saddened that the media is calling him a racist and reporting that he was convicted for racial profiling, Arpaio's attorney Mark Goldman said.

In response, Twitter users told Arpaio they are playing the world's smallest violin for him. Others called him a snowflake, among other choice words.

"I understand that some people are unhappy about it and I appreciate it," Goldman said. "I don't think it helps heal what problems still exist in our county or in the country. We seem to be in a perpetual cycle of anger."

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