An update from the contempt hearings for Joe Arpaio in a federal court in Arizona. Despite the fact that Arpaio has admitted to not following the court’s order and to launching an investigation of the judge in the case, it appears he is far more likely to face civil contempt charges rather than criminal contempt.
On the broader issue of violating the court’s orders, Snow could find Arpaio and Sheridan in civil contempt of court, or he could refer them to another proceeding to determine whether the contempt was criminal.
“I don’t think there’s any question that he willfully violated a federal district court order,” said James Belanger, a Phoenix attorney who defends clients in regulatory enforcement and criminal matters in state and federal court. “I think there’s a basis for a criminal referral. I don’t know that it’s a slam dunk.”
Belanger defined civil contempt as disobeying a court order. But if there’s an order that says you shall not do something, and that order is willfully violated, that falls in the area of criminal contempt, he said.
“If a federal district court judge says you shall not do X and you willfully violate that order, that puts you in the grounds where you can be referred for prosecution for criminal contempt,” Belanger said.
The judge, Belanger said, will consider the entirety of the evidence presented to decide whether it should be referred for criminal prosecution.
The difference between civil and criminal contempt centers around intent.
“It’s kind of like a perjury charge,” said attorney Kurt Altman. “You have to show so much knowledge, so much intent, to show you willfully violated a judge’s order — and it’s a difficult standard to accomplish.”
Altman said civil contempt is more likely to be found. He said he tells friends he would rather try a murder case than a criminal-contempt case because the standard is so high: “Not to say it couldn’t happen, but these things are kind of a long shot.”
Arpaio has a history of going after judges presiding over cases involving his office:
In 2009, his investigators filed a public-records request to obtain privileged e-mails that Maricopa County Superior Court judges sent to each other. The court refused and the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld their right to do so.
Later in 2009, his deputies filed misconduct complaints against four Superior Court judges. During the years-long feud between Arpaio and Thomas on one side and county supervisors and judges on the other, some judges were so concerned about being under surveillance that they held meetings in bathrooms in their courthouse chambers.
“If you oppose him, he goes out and tries to find something,” said retired Judge Kenneth Fields. Fields said his staffers were questioned in their homes late at night by Arpaio investigators after he threw out charges brought by Thomas and Arpaio against another county official and made a comment about Thomas in a meeting.
Fields and other judges were targets of a 2009 federal civil racketeering suit brought by Arpaio and Thomas that was thrown out.
Arpaio had former Judge Gary Donahoe charged with bribery because of his and Thomas’ discontent over the construction of a new county courthouse. The case against Donahoe eventually was dropped.
It did not stop there. In 2012, sheriff’s deputies tailed a Colorado State Bar official who was bringing ethics charges against Thomas. Those charges ended with Thomas’ disbarment.
These events and others were the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into potential abuse of power by Arpaio and Thomas. That probe was dropped in 2012 without charges.
I really hope this guy gets removed from office. I was strongly hoping for criminal content charges. He should be nowhere near even a tiny bit of political power.