America's lease law abiding sheriff begins a four-day hearing Tuesday that could bring fines, damage his credibility and make him politically vulnerable for repeated violations of a judge's orders in a racial profiling case
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, near Phoenix, has directly acknowledged disobeying the judge's pretrial order that barred his aggressive immigration enforcement patrols.
He also failed to turn over traffic-stop videos in the profiling case and bungling a plan to gather such recordings from officers once some of the videos were discovered.
The hearing marks a rare attempt to hold the rogue sheriff personally responsible for his actions.
Arpaio is among the nearly two dozen people on the witness list, though it's not clear if he'll be called to testify.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide whether Arpaio and four of his aides should be held in contempt for violating the order barring the sheriff's immigration patrols. Arpaio is believed to have intentionally not informed rank-and-file officers about the injunction, leaving them to violate the order for about 18 months.
The sheriff and his deputy, Jerry Sheridan, have acknowledged violating the order and being responsible for the agency's failure to turn over traffic-stop videos and bungling the subsequent plan to gather recordings from officers.
It's unfortunately not clear whether Arpaio's legal troubles are signalling an end to his 22-year political career. His political strength has been gradually declining over the past four election cycles, but his base of devoted supporters and impressive fundraising help him beat competitors.
"This is a man who has flouted the law so notoriously over 20 years, and yet he appears to be unscathed, although we taxpayers have paid a price for it," said Michael Manning, an attorney who has won more than $20 million in damages in lawsuits over deaths at Arpaio's jails. Manning isn't involved in the contempt case.
Snow has said he is going to later launch a criminal contempt case that could expose the sheriff to jail time. Here's hoping he ends up in one of his own jails where he can see first hand the effects of his criminal actions have on inmates.