PHOENIX — In a hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will face a criminal contempt of court trial in two months.
A felony contempt conviction would force Arpaio from office; he could remain sheriff with a misdemeanor conviction.
Arpaio would face up to six months in jail if convicted of misdemeanor criminal contempt and an unspecified sentencing range if such a conviction is deemed a felony.
The case is not expected to be designated as a misdemeanor or felony until later.
Arpaio said later Tuesday the charges were nothing more than a final attempt by President Barack Obama to oust the sheriff from office.
Arpaio, 84, was recommended for criminal contempt charges by U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow.
Arpaio has acknowledged violating an order from Snow but insisted it wasn’t intentional.
Snow disagreed. He said Arpaio kept up the patrols, for which he is well-known around the country, in an effort to retain office during the 2012 elections.
Arpaio, a Republican, won with nearly 51 percent of the vote to Democratic rival Paul Penzone’s nearly 45 percent. It was the closest margin Arpaio had ever faced. The two will square off again in November.
“No one is above the law, and today’s (Tuesday’s) announcement in court epitomizes the strength of the judicial system,” Penzone said of the ruling in a release.
Snow also requested criminal charges against Arpaio and his second in command, Jerry Sheridan, for withholding 50 hard drives in a secret investigation that critics say targeted Snow.
The racial profiling lawsuit that Arpaio lost more than three years ago grew into a contempt case.
Arpaio and three aides had been found in civil contempt for defying Snow’s orders in a years-old racial profiling case in the spring. The sheriff’s office had refused to stop targeting Latinos in patrols despite federal directives to do so.
County taxpayers have been tagged for $48 million in the profiling case and they will be forking over more: costs were expected to reach $72 million by next summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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