U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow has referred criminal contempt charges against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and three of his aides to US Attorney John Leonardo for prosecution. The three aides are Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Arpaio’s former defense attorney Michele Iafrate, and Capt. Steve Bailey. Arpaio and Sheridan have already been found guilty of civil contempt charges and fines were levied.
“Criminal contempt serves to vindicate the Court’s authority by punishing the intentional disregard for that authority.”
If found guilty of criminal contempt, Arpaio and his aides would face prison time. There are several unknowns in the case however. It is extremely rare that law enforcement officers are prosecuted. US Attorney does not have to file charges against the four, but oin the other hand, Loretta Lynch could insist that he does. It also raises a number of legal questions:
- Will the U.S. Attorney’s Office accept the recommendation?
- What will the charge be?
- If Arpaio is found guilty, will a conviction legally force him to resign?
- Could Arpaio end up behind bars?
- Will Snow’s decision affect Arpaio’s odds for a seventh term?
Mel McDonald, Arpaio’s attorney representing him in criminal matters, said the ruling came more as a disappointment than a surprise.
“I think the evidence is clearly insufficient for him to make this referral,” he said. “We will be requesting a meeting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and urging them to not go forward with it.”
John Leonardo is the U.S. attorney for Arizona.
Cosme Lopez, a spokesman for Leonardo, described the criminal contempt referral as “a very atypical situation” and said it is not clear what will happen next.
“We just received it about an hour ago,” Lopez said Friday evening. “It’s about 32 pages, so we’re just reviewing it like everyone else.”
He said the U.S. attorney will have several options, including passing the referral on to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section based in Washington, D.C. He declined to list other options and said it could take a couple of weeks for a determination on how to proceed.
Lopez said he does not know if Leonardo serves on any government task forces or boards that might create a conflict of interest in handing a case involving the sheriff.