PHOENIX (AP) – A federal judge harshly criticized Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office Thursday for pursuing a secret investigation designed to discredit the judge as he oversees a racial-profiling case against the lawman.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow said Arpaio intended to show that Snow and the U.S. Justice Department were conspiring against him in two civil rights cases. Arpaio's goal in trying to discredit the judge is unclear, but Snow has delivered some of the most crushing legal blows in the sheriff's 22-year tenure, including a ruling that his officers racially profiled Latinos.
Snow said documents handed over by Arpaio's office showed the police agency had aimed to track any calls between the court and Justice Department officials. Snow also said the documents suggest Arpaio's office believed someone had undermined the process for selecting a judge for the profiling case, even though judges are randomly selected.
"The very existence of these documents in MCSO's files causes me concerns," Snow said, calling the theory being pursued by the sheriff's office "bogus."
The investigation was revealed three weeks ago when Arpaio testified at hearings over his violation of court orders in a racial-profiling case that the sheriff lost in May 2013.
Nearly two years ago, Snow ruled that Arpaio's office had systematically racially profiled Latinos during regular traffic and immigration patrols. Arpaio vigorously denies that his officers racially profiled people, but acknowledges he let his officers conduct immigration patrols for 18 months after being told to stop them.
In his testimony on April 23, Arpaio made the bombshell acknowledgement that his office hired a private investigator to look into the judge's wife. Arpaio also said his office used a confidential informant in the Seattle area to investigate whether there were wiretaps on the emails and phones of local judges and lawyers defending the sheriff in a separate civil rights lawsuit by the Justice Department.
The judge said the documents show that Dennis Montgomery, a computer consultant who has done work for the U.S. military and worked as a confidential informant in Arpaio's secret investigation, told the sheriff's office he could help them figure out what Snow and the Justice Department had been talking about.
The sheriff and his second-in-command, Jerry Sheridan, have said they eventually lost confidence in Montgomery's credibility. It's unclear what led the sheriff's office to conclude that Montgomery wasn't a reliable source of information.
After Thursday's hearing, Arpaio and his attorney, Michele Iafrate, declined to comment about Snow's summary of what he found in the documents about the investigation. Still, Iafrate complained in court that the hearings were morphing into a legal matter unrelated to the contempt case.
Larry Klayman, a lawyer who represents Montgomery, declined earlier this week to comment on claims by the sheriff and Sheridan that his client provided unreliable information. "I don't believe Dennis is a con man, but I can't comment on that," Klayman said. "This is not the proceeding to do it."
The contempt hearings could to lead to civil fines for Arpaio, increased oversight of his agency and a possible criminal contempt hearing that could expose him to jail time.
The Justice Department's pending civil rights lawsuit alleges Arpaio's office has racially profiled people, retaliated against its critics and punished Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish. The sheriff denies the claims.
New details also emerged in court records on the sheriff's office decision to hire a private investigator to examine statements allegedly made by the judge's wife.
Arpaio testified last month that his then-lawyer Tim Casey had hired private investigator Don Vogel. But a letter Casey sent to Vogel says the decision to retain the investigator was authorized by Arpaio's office and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.