PHOENIX (AP) – Attorneys pressing a racial profiling lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio urged a judge to reject the lawman's attempt to get the judge removed from the case.
The lawyers said in a court filing Friday evening that Arpaio's request is a delay tactic and argued the sheriff hasn't proven that U.S. District Judge Murray Snow is biased.
Arpaio's lawyers said the judge's questions during a contempt-of-court hearing several weeks ago in the profiling case have created the appearance of judicial bias. Arpaio is undergoing contempt hearings for his acknowledged violations of Snow's orders in the profiling case.
The sheriff's request put the contempt case on hold and led to the postponement of contempt hearings that were supposed to be held this month.
The judge has delivered some of the most crushing legal blows in the sheriff's 22-year tenure, including a ruling two years ago that Arpaio's officers racially profiled Latinos in regular traffic and immigration patrols.
In questioning Snow's ability to preside over the case, the sheriff's attorneys focused on questions the judge posed on two secret investigations done either by or on behalf of Arpaio's office.
Snow asked Arpaio about an investigation that examined a statement allegedly made by the judge's wife. She's reported to have said the judge didn't want Arpaio to win re-election, though it's not clear whether she ever made such a comment.
The judge also questioned Arpaio about another investigation that Snow said was intended to show an alleged conspiracy between Snow and the U.S. Justice Department, which is pressing a separate civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff's office.
Arpaio had testified that his office eventually lost confidence in the credibility of a paid confidential informant who claimed that he could use computer data to figure out what Snow and the Justice Department had been talking about.
The attorneys who opposed Arpaio's request said the sheriff testified in April that he didn't know whether the conspiracy investigation was still ongoing.
But the lawyers said on Friday that documents handed over by the sheriff's office indicate the conspiracy investigation continued until the eve of the contempt hearings.
Arpaio's office declined to comment on Friday's filing. The sheriff's attorney, Michele Iafrate, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
"In short, the law does not permit a party to trigger recusal at will, simply by alleging that the court participated in a conspiracy to `get' him," wrote the lawyers who are pushing the case against Arpaio.
This isn't the first time Arpaio has sought to remove a judge from the profiling case.
Arpaio's lawyers succeeded in 2009 in getting a new judge after questioning the impartiality of then-U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia, who was originally assigned the case, because the judge's twin sister was the leader of the National Council of La Raza, a prominent advocacy group for Latinos.
Snow, an appointee of President George W. Bush, then took over the case.
Just before the case went to trial in 2012, Snow raised the possibility of his recusal after lawyers pressing the lawsuit learned his brother-in-law is a partner in the firm where they work.
The judge's brother-in-law isn't involved in the profiling case and litigates insurance, patent, and product liability out of the firm's office in Washington, D.C.
At the time, attorneys on both sides said they wanted Snow to remain on the case.