An Arizona county can be held liable for the policies of a former sheriff whose department was found to have discriminated against Latinos, a federal appeals court said in an opinion Monday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued an opinion saying that Maricopa County is also responsible for policies carried out by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio when he was in office.
The opinion springs from a U.S. government action against Arpaio and the county seeking to stop discriminatory practices toward Latinos. It included the accusations of discrimination described in a high-profile class action suit against the ex-sheriff for traffic stops of people suspected of being immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
Over the years, Maricopa County has spent some $141 million defending Arpaio against lawsuits.
That includes $54 million in the racial profiling case alone and $82 million in judgments, settlements and legal fees for the sheriff's office, covering issues such as lawsuits over deaths in his jails and the lawman's failed investigations of political enemies.
Arpaio, 85, was sheriff of Maricopa County for 24 years until losing re-election to Democrat Paul Penzone in 2016.
He was pardoned last year by President Donald Trump for his criminal conviction for contempt of court for intentionally defying a 2011 court order that barred his traffic patrols targeting immigrants. Arpaio has declared his candidacy for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said "fiscal oversight authorized by Boards of Supervisors under Arizona law does not extend to operational oversight" and added that the opinion appeared to be based on a "grossly limited review of Arizona law."
In a 2012 motion to dismiss the U.S. government's action, Maricopa County indicated that it wanted to separate itself from any discriminatory practices employed by the sheriff and said it could not stop his alleged conduct.
"The County and Board (of Supervisors) cannot provide instructions to the Sheriff, control the actions of the Sheriff, or set law enforcement or incarceration policy. The Sheriff is solely responsible for those activities within the County pursuant to Arizona law," it said.