Latest pardon ruling still leaves Sheriff Joe Arpaio open to suits

Posted at 3:07 PM, Oct 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-20 18:07:36-04

After failing to get his criminal conviction wiped off his record as a result of his pardon from President Donald Trump, former Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio could be targeted by lawsuits arising out of his acknowledged disobedience involving a 2011 court order to stop his immigration patrols.

A judge has rejected Arpaio's request to throw out a 14-page decision that explains why she found him guilty of misdemeanor contempt of court.

The former sheriff wants the ruling thrown out in a bid to clear his name and bar attorneys from using it in future court cases as an example of a prior bad act.

Latinos who were illegally detained by Arpaio's officers during the 17-month period in which the sheriff disobeyed the order will be able to apply for money from a taxpayer-funded compensation system for the harm they suffered.

Or they could file a lawsuit seeking damages from illegal detentions, though no such civil cases have yet been filed. Prosecutors and Arpaio's critics say at least 170 people were illegally detained because Arpaio didn't stop the patrols.

Lydia Guzman, a longtime opponent of Arpaio's immigration crackdowns, said Friday that she finds some consolation in the latest ruling, even though the pardon eliminated criminal penalties that the former sheriff would face as result of his conviction.

"It's still on his record," Guzman said. "If he had any inkling of running for office again, I would hope that his opponent, whoever would oppose him, would use this. This doesn't erase the facts, as the judge said. The facts are the facts."

Arpaio, who hasn't yet decided whether he'll run for office again, has acknowledged prolonging the patrols but insisted his disobedience wasn't intentional.

Prosecutors had accused Arpaio of prolonging the patrols so that he could promote his immigration enforcement efforts in a bid to boost his successful 2012 re-election campaign.

His defiance of the court order is believed to have contributed to his 2016 election loss after serving 24 years as metro Phoenix's top law enforcer.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled earlier this month that the pardon will stand and dismissed the case. But on Thursday she denied the sheriff's request to throw out all rulings in the case, deciding that pardons don't erase convictions or the facts of cases.

In the blistering ruling that Arpaio wants thrown out, Bolton cited TV interviews and news releases in which the sheriff made comments about keeping up the patrols, even though he knew they were no longer allowed.

Arpaio attorney Jack Wilenchik said the ruling should be tossed because it could be used against Arpaio in any future civil or criminal case, including any lawsuits arising from the violation of the court order.

"What if they come up with a future case?" asked Wilenchik, who has already told Bolton that his client is appealing her latest decision.

The retired sheriff, reached Friday in Los Angeles where he was taking part in a Republican event, said he has a broader objective in filing an appeal.

"I am not fighting this for me," Arpaio said. "I am fighting this for everybody. What they did to me, they could do to you, they could do it to anybody."

Daniel Kobil, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, said he doubts Arpaio will succeed in appealing the decision and noted that the case points out the limits of presidential pardon powers.

"A pardon is not a decree from a monarch that you must erase all memory of the wrongdoing," Kobil said.