United States District Judge Murray Snow has found that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio violated court orders, including those prohibiting the continuing of the sheriff’s “immigration patrols.” The lengthy opinion by Snow has been described as a “bruising critique” of Arpaio’s conduct. In the ruling, Snow found that the violations of his orders constituted “civil contempt.” But the judge left open the possibility of criminal consequences.

The case itself centers on practices of the Sheriff’s office that were said to target immigrants. During the course of the case, Snow issued a number of rulings that directed the Sheriff’s office to take – or not to take – certain actions.

The thrust of the decision came as no surprise to those of us who have followed the case over the past few years. The judge found that the immigration patrols continued for 18 months after Snow ordered them to stop, a fact that Arpaio has acknowledged. Snow also found that the sheriff’s office failed to turn over evidence as required. Arpaio apparently also ignored legal advice from his commanders and his lawyer, publicizing arrest of unauthorized immigrants because Arpaio thought it would help is re-election campaign. Judge Snow said that the continuation of the immigration patrols and other violations of his court orders involved misconduct, dishonesty and bad faith on the part of Arpaio and three of his deputies. Finally, Snow ruled that Arpaio did not make a good faith effort to investigate violations of the court order by deputies.

Arpaio has also admitted that his attorney hired a private investigator to conduct a secret investigation of the judge’s wife, after his wife supposedly commented that she didn’t want to see Arpaio get re-elected back in 2012.

The upshot of all this is two-fold. First, we could see criminal charges resulting from the case, relating not only to the violation of the court orders, but also based on the investigation of the judge’s wife. Second, this whole debacle has already costs the citizens more than $40 million.

A hearing is now scheduled for May 31 to deal with penalties on the civil contempt finding. At that time, we expect that there will also be a discussion of whether Judge Snow should refer the case for criminal prosecution.

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