PHOENIX - Sheriff Joe Arpaio asked an appeals court to throw out a civil contempt-of-court ruling against him days before leaving office in a bid to undo a decision that is believed to have contributed to his political demise.
The 84-year-old lawman asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday to overturn the contempt ruling that a federal judge imposed for his defiance of a court order in a 3-year-old racial profiling case. Arpaio also wants to do away with punishments stemming from the ruling.
The same judge later went a step further, recommending a criminal contempt charge against Arpaio. The misdemeanor charge was filed two weeks before Election Day.
Arpaio's 24-year tenure as Maricopa County sheriff is set to end Sunday. He will be replaced by Paul Penzone, a retired Phoenix police sergeant who trounced Arpaio in November.
A steady stream of negative news from the racial profiling lawsuit, including its $50 million in taxpayer costs and Arpaio's criminal charge, is believed to have contributed to his defeat.
He lost the lawsuit that morphed into a contempt case after the sheriff and his aides were accused of ignoring court orders, including one that barred patrols targeting immigrants. The case also revealed flaws in Arpaio's internal investigations, which a judge said had been manipulated to shield officials from accountability.
Arpaio, who could face up to six months in jail if convicted of the criminal charge, has acknowledged violating the immigration-patrol order but said it was unintentional. He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is set for April 4.
The sheriff's filing this week also asked the appeals court to remove from the case U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who found Arpaio in contempt. Arpaio alleges that the judge has had improper private conversations with an official who is monitoring the sheriff's office on behalf of the court.
Arpaio's lawyers said the remedy for such improper conversations is to throw out the civil contempt ruling, which served as the basis for the criminal charge. The sheriff also wants the civil punishments tossed, such as an order to redo internal investigations after Snow found they were inadequate.
"We should all turn our focus to the reforms currently underway to establish a functioning and fair internal affairs system necessary to protect the community against future violations," said Andre Segura, one of the attorneys who pressed the profiling case.
Arpaio lost an earlier effort to disqualify Snow, who threw out an earlier internal investigation into which managers were responsible for defying the immigration-patrol order. That inquiry ended without anyone being disciplined.
Lawyers for the sheriff told the appeals court that Snow overstepped his powers by imposing changes that have nothing to do with the case, including overhauling internal affairs procedures.