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Legally Speaking: Judge Snow made it clear how he feels about Sheriff Arpaio

Protesters rally in front of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Headquarters Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Phoenix. Arizona taxpayers could be paying out to compensate hundreds of Latinos who were illegally detained when Sheriff Joe Arpaio rounded them up in past immigration patrols. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow, the presiding judge over the racial profiling case against Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, raised the possibility of holding a second round of contempt-of-court hearings against the sheriff.

Although two defendants were dismissed from the case, Lt. Joe Sousa and Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre, Arpaio still faces the possibility of a criminal contempt hearing and paying victims out of his own pocket.

It took Snow months to issue his initial decision finding “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and his top aides in contempt of court, but he acted quickly and efficiently Tuesday as he methodically went through an exhaustive list of issues. Throughout the hearing, he enlightened the packed courtroom on his thoughts and continually warned the parties to resolve the issues on their own or he would rule.

One of the first discussions focused on whether Maricopa County was indeed on the hook for sheriff Arpaio’s deliberate and intentional actions in violating the court’s preliminary injunction. Richard Walker, counsel for Maricopa County, did the best he could in arguing it shouldn’t be, but Snow was not persuaded.

Snow acknowledged he was mindful of the burden on the county and that he would do everything he could to keep the costs down while making the plaintiffs whole. He then threw in the comment that he didn’t care how the county pays for it and that it could always take it out of the sheriff’s budget.

Next came the issue of whether the court should order the defendants pay for the damages to the victims from their own personal pockets. Plaintiffs, to ensure full relief to the victims, argued that both the defendants and the county be required to pay.

The question then became how much should be paid to the victims. Both the plaintiffs and defendants submitted their ideas, and the judge came down somewhat in the middle. He explained that if the parties cannot reach an agreement, he is inclined to rule that each victim receive $1,500 for the initial hour of wrongful detention and then $200 for every 20 minutes of detention thereafter. As you can see, this can really add up.

Besides having to determine who will pay and how much, it also needs to be determined who the victims are. At this point in time there are two different types of victims. Those that are already in the lawsuit (Track A) and those that could be (Track B). Plaintiffs argued that a broad advertising campaign with a price tag of over $175,000 will need to be implemented in order to find the Track B victims. The cost is high, because it will need to be an international and national campaign in multiple languages.

The remainder of the day was spent going over issues related to internal affairs investigations within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and its disciplinary matrices. The judge meticulously raised issues and voiced his concerns while allowing each side to comment.

Ultimately, he instructed the parties to work on a compromise and present it to him. Snow pointed out the sheriff still has broad discretion to run his office as he is the duly elected official though he is trying to balance that with the issues in this case.

What’s the takeaway? Legally Speaking I think the judge made it very clear how he feels about Arpaio and MCSO. With comments like, “I have no confidence in the direction of MCSO anymore,” and that he is focused on the “rehabilitation of MCSO,” it is clear he’s not going to just let this matter fade away.

Judge Snow and the court monitor with the help of the Department of Justice will continue to be vigilant and watch MCSO and Arpaio’s next steps very closely. The cost to the taxpayers of Maricopa County will be high, but with the decision still up in the air of whether Snow will recommend criminal contempt charges, the cost to Arpaio could be not only his career but also his legacy.

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