PHOENIX - A group supporting metropolitan Phoenix's sheriff demanded Wednesday that organizers of an effort to recall the lawman immediately end their campaign, and vowed to go to court to stop them.
Citizens To Protect Fair Election Results contends the recall effort against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is unconstitutional and intended to harass him and prevent him from carrying out his duties. Recall organizers say the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America should be ousted, in part, because his office failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases. They also allege Arpaio's office put immigration enforcement above other law enforcement priorities.
Arpaio supporters say the sheriff who is known for immigration enforcement and housing jail inmates in canvas tents won a sixth term in November fair and square and that recall organizers shouldn't be allowed to contest the election simply because they don't like the outcome.
Larry Klayman, a lawyer representing the pro-Arpaio group, said that if the recall effort continues, his group will file legal action against its organizers alleging they violated the free speech, equal protection and due process rights of the majority of county voters who re-elected the sheriff.
"There are no valid reasons for this recall petition," Klayman said. "Nothing happened between the day of the election, the swearing-in of Sheriff Arpaio and this recall petition."
The group called a news conference Wednesday to publicize a cease-and-desist letter it sent to recall organizers.
Arpaio isn't affiliated with Citizens To Protect Fair Election Results but agrees that there's no valid reason for the recall effort, sheriff's spokeswoman Lisa Allen said.
"Sheriff Arpaio also believes there may be need for a legal clarification on whether any elected official, regardless of party, can be recalled only days after a general election," Allen said.
Arpaio faced his second-tightest election in November, beating the closest candidate by 6 percentage points. Arpaio critics tried to turn the sheriff's themes of unceasingly cracking down on crime and illegal immigration against him. In late 2011, his critics said they decided against pursuing a recall effort and instead would leave the matter to voters to decide.
Recall organizers face a May 30 deadline for handing in valid petition signatures from more than 335,000 voters in the county. If they succeed in securing a recall election, the earliest that race could be put on the ballot is November. Organizers say they have gathered at least 50,000 signatures so far.
William Fisher, a lawyer leading the group seeking the recall, said Arpaio denied voters the chance to justify his positions on critical issues when he refused to take part in any debates during last fall's campaign. Fisher rejected the criticism that the sheriff's critics have sour grapes.
"Then why have a recall statute in the state of Arizona?" Fisher said.
In arguing the recall effort was unconstitutional, Klayman cited a section of the Arizona Constitution that prohibits the circulation of recall petitions against an official until he or she has held office for six months.
Fisher countered in an interview with The Associated Press that a section of state law specifies the six-month period doesn't apply to incumbents.
David Gartner, an Arizona State University professor who teaches constitutional law, agreed with that assessment.
"I interpret that language (of the state law) to mean that someone who has been re-elected to the same office isn't subject to the six-month delay in terms of the possibility of a recall effort," Gartner said.
In 2011, immigrant rights advocates succeeded in their effort to oust then-Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, an Arpaio ally who was the driving force behind the state's contentious 2010 immigration law.
Fisher said his group is separate from the organization that pursued Pearce's recall, but he has talked one of its top organizers in his group's effort to oust Arpaio.
Arpaio's office reopened more than 400 of its sex-crime cases countywide for a three-year period after finding they were inadequately investigated or not examined at all. An internal affairs report released last week attributed the failures to understaffing and mismanagement and didn't find any single person was responsible for the botched cases.
Arpaio apologized in December 2011 for the bungled cases, and his office has since said it has moved to clear up the cases and taken steps to prevent the problem from happening again.