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Nothing to see here, move along.
That's the message conveyed by the opening remarks of Tim Casey, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's $755,000 lawyer in the ACLU's big racial profiling trial Melendres v. Arpaio, which kicked off this morning at the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse in downtown Phoenix.
Race and ethnicity had zip to do with any of the stops of the plaintiffs by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputies, Casey told federal Judge G. Murray Snow.
You know, they just happened to be Hispanic.
The probable cause used by the MCSO during its Hispanic-hunting sweeps was "race neutral," contended the high-priced legal beagle.
As for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, his statements "show no racial animus," Casey averred with a straight face.
Guess he forgot about Joe's remarks that all Mexican migrants are "dirty" and could be carrying "disease," or the time Arpaio said someone could be stopped by deputies if you "look like you just came from Mexico."
What about all the bigoted letters from the public that the MCSO used as pretexts for Arpaio's immigration sweeps?
Sure, there were letters sent to Arpaio with "racially offensive or insensitive remarks," admitted Casey, but "no law enforcement decisions" were made based on such letters.
Why, Arpaio "does not select the sites for the saturation patrols," Casey stated. All that's passed on to Deputy Chief Brian Sands, and race and ethnicity "plays no role" in Sands' selection of a neighborhood to smother with beige shirts.
So once again, Arpaio supposedly is not in control of his own organization: Even though he's always insisting in TV interviews that he's the "shurf" and is the man in command, and though Arpaio was at every sweep, dressed in his MCSO uniform with its abundance of stars on its lapels.
And if you believe Casey's twaddle, you'll believe Casey gives all that county dough he earns as Arpaio's mouthpiece to the Girl Scouts.
Given Joe's record in this department, Stanley Young, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, was far more credible in his opening statement.
Reminding the court that one of "the fundamental values of this nation" is "equal protection under the law," he described how the plaintiffs would present evidence showing that the MCSO had engaged in a "pattern and practice" of racial discrimination against Hispanics.
MCSO officers and officials were characterized by their "denigration of Hispanics," Young said, no doubt alluding to MCSO e-mails with bigoted jokes and anti-Latino photos, which deputies shared among themselves.
The use of race became "a basis of suspicion" in the MCSO, and the actions of Arpaio, Sands, and others demonstrated the "influence of race at the highest level" on MCSO operations, Young explained.
Young asked the court for injunctive relief and the appointment of a court monitor to enforce orders given by the court.
To that point, Judge Snow, who seemed in a dyspeptic mood, had earlier raised some eyebrows when he advised both sides that he would make his decision, "based on the facts as they now stand, not as they were two years ago."
There was almost a collective "Huh?" in the audience, even among some of the lawyers, as all discovery in the case ceased (for the most part) in 2010.
During a break, ACLU of Arizona legal director Dan Pochoda, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, related his interpretation of that remark.
"You have to show that you're still facing a threat of future harm," he said, meaning that the plaintiffs must demonstrate that the "pattern and practice" of discrimination by the MCSO is ongoing.
Maybe the sweeps have stopped, but the MCSO's discriminatory policing continues. Arpaio's own boasting offers evidence, as the sheriff is always telling TV cameras that "nothing's changed" in his office, no matter what the courts or the feds do regarding immigration.
The remainder of the morning was taken up a long, tedious examination of a study done by Temple University Professor Ralph Taylor, who examined extensive data on MCSO traffic stops from 2007 to 2009.
Taylor found (surprise, surprise) that Latinos were more likely to be stopped, and that the stops lasted longer than stops for everyone else -- up to 22 percent more or two minutes longer, whenever a deputy was checking a Hispanic name.
As for the likelihood of getting stopped, Taylor's numbers depended on his control group.
Still, Hispanic names were 53.7 percent more likely to be checked during a saturation patrol when compared to non-saturation-patrol stops for the same day. Hispanics were up to 39.5 percent more likely to be stopped compared with dates one year earlier. And Hispanic names were around 22 percent more likely to be run by MCSO officers during a saturation patrol compared to all other days.
Casey's co-counsel, Tom Liddy of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, handled the cross examination, and at least succeeded in waking everyone up. In a rumpled suit and wearing orange-tinted reading glasses, Liddy jousted with Taylor over Taylor's findings.
Beyond establishing that the data Taylor used was narrowed to a very specific category, Liddy wasn't very successful in impugning the professor's work, but at least he was amusing.
At one point, the pugnacious attorney, who is the son of Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, asked the prim and proper Taylor to read a document, going over it line by line.
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Indicating the last portion of the page, Liddy asked, "Is there any more information there?"
Taylor paused, then smirked, "It says, `No further information.'"
"It's a trick question," Liddy cracked. "You passed."
The court broke for lunch in the midst of Liddy's cross. The schedule calls for court to adjourn at day's end and reconvene Tuesday, when Arpaio might be called to the stand, doing his Al Capone impersonation all the way, no doubt.