PHOENIX — The lead attorney defending former Sheriff Joe Arpaio on a criminal contempt-of-court charge for his acknowledged defiance of a 2011 court order was allowed to bow out of the case less than three weeks before trial is scheduled to begin.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton agreed Thursday to let attorney Mel McDonald withdraw from the case after he cited an ethical rule that lets attorneys quit cases when their representation would result in a violation of professional rules or laws.
McDonald never publicly stated his reason for wanting to leave the case, and members of the public weren’t allowed in the courtroom while he explained his request to the judge. Outside of courthouse, Arpaio declined to explain the circumstances that led McDonald’s departure.
Mark Goldman, who joined Arpaio’s legal team in mid-March and will now serve as his lead attorney, had unsuccessfully sought a delay of the trial. He told reporters that he’ll likely make another postponement request.
“We still don’t have all the documents in connection with the case,” Goldman said. “So it is impossible to prepare for it to a certain extent, unless we went to a magic school and could actually make them all of a sudden appear in our office.”
Arpaio faces an April 25 trial for prolonging his signature immigration patrols for 17 months after a judge in a racial profiling case ordered them stopped.
The judge who issued the immigration-patrol order has previously said Arpaio violated his order because Arpaio believed continuing his immigration efforts would help his 2012 campaign.
The former sheriff has acknowledged prolonging his patrols, but he says his defiance wasn’t intentional. If convicted, the 84-year-old faces up to six months in jail.
Goldman is the seventh attorney to represent Arpaio in either the profiling case or the related contempt proceedings that sprang from the violation of the 2011 order.
The lawyers who represented him in the civil rights case were paid for by taxpayers, while Arpaio is responsible for paying for his criminal defense attorneys.
Arpaio has several other requests pending before the court that seek to bar the testimony of another lawyer who once represented him in the profiling case and of two people who were illegally detained when the sheriff violated the immigration-patrol order.
The former lawman is also seeking to prohibit comments he made about immigration during his last three campaigns from being mentioned at trial.
He was defeated in November by Paul Penzone, who announced Tuesday that he planned to close “Tent City,” the outdoor complex of jail tents that helped make Arpaio a national law-enforcement figure.
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