Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone Appeals Contempt Order in Long-Running Court Case | Phoenix New Times
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Sheriff Paul Penzone Appeals Contempt Order That Proposed Millions in Fines

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone is challenging a judge's November ruling holding him in contempt of court in a decades-long court case.
Sheriff Paul Penzone said the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will comply with court orders in a long-running case despite an appeal filed on January 9.
Sheriff Paul Penzone said the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will comply with court orders in a long-running case despite an appeal filed on January 9. Matt Hennie
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Two months after a federal judge found Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone in contempt of court over a massive backlog of misconduct investigations, the sheriff has launched an appeal.

Penzone filed an appeal with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, the full scope of which will become clear as the court proceedings move forward over the next few weeks.

It's the latest development in the long-standing case, Melendres v. Penzone, which dates back more than a decade to the reign of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The case originally challenged the Arpsio's racial profiling practices and targeting of undocumented immigrants.

The case has haunted Penzone since he took office in 2016, even as he has tried to distance himself from Arpaio's legacy. In November, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow held Penzone in contempt of court in the case. Penzone's failure to comply with court orders relating to employee misconduct investigations was "knowing and continuous," Snow found.

Penzone explained the appeal in an email sent to Maricopa County Sheriff's Office staff on Monday.

"This decision came after review of the order and advice from counsel identified specific legal elements of concern," Penzone wrote in the email obtained by Phoenix New Times. "This appeal does not in any way impact the sheriff's commitment to fully comply with all of the court's orders."

Snow's order largely stemmed from a severe backlog of misconduct cases that has swelled under Penzone's tenure as sheriff. According to a review by an independent expert, it takes more than 600 days to resolve misconduct complaints against sheriff's office employees, such as sworn deputies and detention officers. The court has mandated for years that the office resolve most complaints in 85 days.

The backlog has grown over the years, due in part to understaffing in the sheriff's internal affairs division, called the Professional Standards Bureau.

In the contempt order, Snow gave Penzone 60 days to staff the bureau — or face hefty monthly fines. In December, Penzone asked the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for approval to pay over $1.15 million in fines for January, anticipating that he might not be in compliance with the court's order by that time.

According to recent court pleadings, Penzone has managed — for the first time in years — to fully staff the PSB, in part by transferring employees from other areas of agency to that office. That means that, at least this month, he doesn't face any fines.

Penzone did not immediately respond to inquiries from New Times on Thursday about the appeal.
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