Testimony Wraps Up In Sheriff Joe Arpaio Contempt Case

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, November 13, 2015 - 3:40pm
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The testimony in the contempt of court case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio finally wrapped up Friday after 20 days. The contempt hearing officially ends Nov. 20 after the parties give their closing arguments. Then U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow will make his ruling on civil contempt.

The first days of the hearing began almost seven months ago in April, after it came to light the sheriff’s office had repeatedly violated Snow’s orders in a racial profiling case.

That racial profiling trial in 2012 was only seven days, about a third of the length of the testimony in the contempt hearing.

There have been plenty of twists, turns and pauses along the way in the contempt hearing — including when defendants asked Snow to recuse himself this summer, and everything was temporarily put on the hold.

The final witness, MCSO Cold Case Posse leader Mike Zullo, provided a dramatic conclusion to the hearing with his testimony.

Zullo — one of the sheriff’s most trusted volunteers — was tasked with the sheriff’s investigation of President Barack Obama's birth certificate and was also central in the mysterious Seattle investigation. That’s the investigation that has been described by the sheriff and his chief deputy as an effort to expose the federal government for allegedly hacking into Maricopa County residents’ bank accounts. But there’s also evidence suggesting it involved an effort to discredit Snow by linking him in a false conspiracy.

Zullo at first invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions, but then on Thursday afternoon he reversed course and began testifying. He explained he wasn’t investigating Snow, and that Snow was actually a victim of this bank hacking plot.

After court concluded on Friday, Arpaio’s lawyer John Masterson seemed satisfied with how the hearing went.

“I think it went well,” Masterson said outside of court. “We felt the Seattle issue was a side issue, kind of a sideshow — giving the ACLU time to throw mud up on the wall against the sheriff’s office. And Zullo explained what happened, that no one was investigating Judge Snow.”

But that’s one side of the story. Plaintiffs showed emails on Friday between Zullo and confidential informant Dennis Montgomery in which Montgomery asks if he should continue researching Snow.

Whether the sheriff’s team explored an effort to discredit Snow will likely be a point of debate in closing arguments.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers also said they believed the hearing went well for their side. They were trying to prove the sheriff and his team intentionally violated court orders and defied Snow, and that remedies are needed to prevent future violations.

“I think the evidence in this contempt process, and the admission of the sheriff and chief deputy that they did commit contempt, cries out for a need for further relief from the court to make sure the sheriff’s office obeys the court’s orders and the constitution,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Stanley Young after court.

The plaintiffs are expected to propose remedies to the judge, including giving the court-appointed monitor more power, particularly when it comes to the sheriff’s internal investigations.

After Snow makes his ruling on civil contempt, he will then decide whether to refer the case to a prosecutor to pursue criminal contempt charges. On Friday, Snow said he could decide to refer individuals not named in the civil contempt case for a criminal contempt referral.

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