Attorneys Debate Judge’s Questioning Of Arpaio On Secret Investigations

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 5:40pm

The attorneys representing both sides in a racial profiling case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio have now weighed in on whether U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow’s surprise questioning of Arpaio in court last week was fair.

Snow was presiding over a hearing last week to decide whether to hold Arpaio and four of his staff in contempt of court for violating his orders.

Late Thursday morning, Arpaio was on the stand, and Snow unexpectedly asked if the sheriff had read a Phoenix New Times article from June 2014. The article said the sheriff’s office was engaged in a secret investigation involving both Snow and the Department of Justice.

Under questioning, Arpaio acknowledged two investigations that were previously not publicly known. The first was that his lawyer had hired a private investigator to research comments allegedly made by Snow’s wife, about Snow disliking the sheriff and wanting him out of office. The second investigation involved the hiring of a confidential informant named Dennis Montgomery, and apparently sought to expose bank fraud and surveillance by federal agencies.

Snow ordered the sheriff to turn over all documents related to the second investigation.

But in court filings Tuesday, Arpaio’s attorney Michele Iafrate objected to the time frame Snow had set, and to his questions. She also objected to the fact that Snow questioned Arpaio about the Phoenix New Times article without putting it into evidence and warning the sheriff.

“Defendant Arpaio objects to the unorthodox manner that violated Defendant Arpaio’s due process rights by questioning Defendant Arpaio on areas on which he did not receive prior notice,” Iafrate wrote in her filing.

On Wednesday afternoon, attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote back, defending Snow’s line of questioning.

 “[T]he Court has ample inherent powers to inquire at any time about possibly improper activities of a party in the context of a case, especially where the activities are the subject of a press article,” reads the filing submitted by Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Wang argued Iafrate should have objected at the time when Snow was questioning Arpaio.

“The absence of such objection constitutes a waiver of such objection,” Wang said. “This waiver was confirmed when defense counsel later elicited the testimony of Chief Deputy Sheridan on the very same subject.” 

When Snow began his examination of Arpaio on Thursday, he began with a short speech saying that he respected Arpaio’s position as the elected sheriff of Maricopa County.

“I'm going to have some questions, some of them may be difficult to answer, and I'm going to certainly let your attorneys participate if they have concerns,” Snow said at the time.

Snow is not expected to rule in the contempt of court case until after additional testimony in June.

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