Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Lawyers Raise Settlement Possibility In Contempt Case

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, August 28, 2015 - 3:49pm
Updated: Saturday, August 29, 2015 - 7:07pm
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Lawyers for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in court Friday they are trying to reach a settlement in the sheriff’s contempt of court case.

Arpaio and four members of his staff are facing contempt of court for violating the judge’s orders in a racial profiling suit. Between 2011 and 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow made a series of rulings against the sheriff’s office, including an order for deputies to immediately stop enforcing federal immigration laws. When evidence emerged that Arpaio and some members of his staff had repeatedly violated those orders, Snow set a civil contempt hearing that began in April.

The hearings are scheduled to resume Sept. 22 for two weeks. Those hearings would be cancelled, though, if the two sides reach a settlement. Lawyers for the sheriff brought up that possibility to Snow on Friday.

But there are challenges to reaching a settlement. For one, there isn’t much time for negotiations while the lawyers are prepping and taking depositions for the contempt hearings that are less than four weeks away.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs told the judge they were “certainly intending to have further discussions,” but raised another obstacle they face.

“The difficulty with reaching any settlement is that MCSO still has not released the documents that they owe us," said Cecillia Wang, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who represents plaintiffs in the case. "So we can’t assess what a proper remedy is.” 

The plaintiffs’ lawyers have been saying for months that the sheriff’s lawyers have failed to turn over all requested records, emails and documents on time.

“There have been many revelations of documents that should have been disclosed and were not,” Wang said.

Another example of previously undisclosed documents came to light this Friday.

After it came out that some deputies had been seizing many people’s IDs and driver’s licenses, seemingly without cause, the court gave the sheriff’s office a February deadline to turn over copies of seized IDs belonging to Latinos.

But more and more hidden stashes of IDs keep turning up.

On Friday, Arpaio’s attorney John Masterson told the court the sheriff’s office had just discovered more than 60 additional IDs.

“My information is that there are a number of IDs with Hispanic last names,” Masterson told Snow.

In the same meeting, Masterson asked Snow if there would be the possibility of finding a magistrate judge with availability to oversee settlement negotiations. Snow said he would check.

This isn’t the first attempt sheriff’s lawyers have made to settle this case. They tried before the first round of contempt hearings began in April. In March, Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan admitted they could be held in contempt of court, and offered to pay $100,000 to a local civil rights organization in an effort to settle.

Any resolution to this civil contempt case is likely to include new protocols the sheriff’s office would have to adopt, as well as civil damages for immigrants who were wrongfully detained by the sheriff’s office in violation of court orders.

If the two parties reach a settlement, Snow could still decide to refer the case to a federal prosecutor to pursue criminal contempt charges.

 Updated 8/29/2015 7:07 p.m.

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