Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio wants to call AG Jeff Sessions as witness at contempt trial
PHOENIX — A surprising name has been added to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s witness list at his upcoming criminal contempt-of-court trial: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose agency is prosecuting the lawman for defying a judge’s order to stop his immigration patrols.
Jack Wilenchik, one of Arpaio’s attorneys, said Sessions’ testimony would underscore a contradiction between a current federal immigration policy and the 2011 court order that his client is charged with violating. The attorney general’s name was added to the list in a court filing Wednesday night.
Arpaio faces the misdemeanor contempt charge for letting his immigration patrols continue after a judge in a racial profiling case had ordered them stopped.
He has acknowledged prolonging the patrols, but insists his defiance wasn’t intentional. If convicted, he could be sentenced up to six months in jail.
The 2011 order that Arpaio is charged with violating forbids sheriff’s deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they’re in the country illegally.
The judge presiding over the profiling case had concluded that Arpaio’s officers continued to detain such immigrants over a 17-month period and turned them over to federal immigration authorities.
Wilenchik said the 2011 order’s prohibition on detaining immigrants who hadn’t been suspected of committing state crimes conflicts with a federal policy backed by Sessions that calls for all adult immigrants who are caught near the border to be apprehended, rather than being released.
In a speech earlier this week at the Arizona-Mexico border, Sessions said “the catch and release practices of the past are over.”
The U.S. Justice Department, whose attorneys are prosecuting Arpaio, declined to comment Thursday.
Paul Charlton, a former U.S. attorney who has been critical of Arpaio’s practices and isn’t involved in the contempt case, said the chances of Sessions testifying at the trial are slim to none.
He said Sessions was serving as a U.S. senator when the criminal case was brought against Arpaio and likely wouldn’t have direct knowledge of the events leading to the criminal charge.
“It would be difficult to image how Mr. Sessions would have anything relevant to say,” Charlton said. “I doubt we will see him testify.”
Arpaio’s attorneys have declined to reveal whether they are seeking a pardon on their client’s behalf from President Donald Trump, who is an Arpaio ally. The lawman shared the stage with Trump at several rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The former sheriff on Wednesday won a postponement of his trial, which was supposed to begin in two weeks.
In an order Thursday evening, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said the bench trial will be held June 26-30 and July 5-7.
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