Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio to face criminal contempt trial in Phoenix

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A former Arizona lawman known for his hard-line stance against illegal immigrants is to appear before a judge on Monday on a criminal contempt charge for violating a court order related to a 2007 racial-profiling case.

Ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ousted from office in an election last November, will stand trial in U.S. District Court for defying a 2011 injunction that barred his deputies from stopping and detaining motorists solely on the suspicion of being in the country illegally.

The controversial traffic stops continued for about 18 months despite the judge’s order.

The 85-year-old Republican lawman, who styled himself as “America’s toughest sheriff” during his 24 years in office and became a nationally known figure, faces up to six months in jail if convicted.

Arpaio previously criticized then-President Barack Obama’s Justice Department for what he said was playing politics and charging him so close to the election, vowing he would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton will decide his fate after she rejected a request by Arpaio’s lawyers for a jury trial. The proceedings are expected to take at least two weeks.

Arpaio already has been cited by another judge for civil contempt for the continued traffic stops in the underlying profiling case. That judge found his office was guilty of racially profiling Latino drivers.

The ex-sheriff has admitted to the civil contempt, but said his actions were inadvertent and not willful or intentional – standards that would need to be proved for a criminal prosecution.

The criminal case was delayed for two months after Arpaio assembled a new defense team to combat what his attorneys have said was a prosecution based on his cooperation with federal efforts to combat illegal immigration.

Several last-ditch appeals were made to postpone the trial, including Arpaio’s most recent request for a change of venue. Arpaio’s attorneys also have been trying to subpoena U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify on immigration policy.

Several key rulings have preceded Monday’s trial. Bolton has ruled that Arpaio’s words in the media and elsewhere can be used against him in court and that two people who were stopped by deputies would be allowed to testify.

It was not known if Arpaio would take the stand at the trial.

(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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