Judge rejects Arpaio demand for recusal in contempt case
The federal judge hearing a racial-profiling case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio refused Arpaio's demand that he recuse himself because he asked about Arpaio's investigation of the judge's wife.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow on Friday rejected a motion for recusal from Arpaio and his Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan. They claimed that Judge Snow's inquiry into whether Arpaio had investigated Snow's wife was improper .
"The proposed bases on which the motion is predicated are legally insufficient and untimely," Snow wrote in the July 10 Order Denying Motion for Recusal or Disqualification. "Further, to the extent that movants, by their own actions, created the circumstances on which they now seek the court's recusal, they have improperly attempted to invoke the recusal provisions for strategic purposes."
Snow's questioning came during the first phase of civil contempt hearings against Arpaio, Sheridan, and three former and current aides to Arpaio. They are accused of violating a court order in a 2007 racial profiling case.
That class action accused Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office of racially profiling Latinos and detaining them during traffic stops or so-called crime suppression sweeps. Snow agreed with the plaintiffs who claimed that Arpaio's deputies violated their Fourth Amendment rights.
Arpaio told Snow during an April hearing that a private eye reported that Snow's wife told an acquaintance that her husband "wanted to do everything to make sure [Arpaio was] not elected."
Arpaio's and Sheridan's attorneys claimed in the motion that they were not given notice that Snow would question them about the investigation.
"Whether a sitting judge is admittedly biased toward a defendant in his court and will do anything to ensure he is not re-elected is - without question - a conflict that creates grounds for recusal," the attorneys wrote. "Accordingly, even if at some point there is a denial that Mrs. Snow made the statements at issue, the conflict that is created is unwaivable."
But Snow said the motion ignored a long-settled principle that bias must come from an extrajudicial source or be excessive.
"The now-challenged topics on which the court questioned movants are relevant to the court's determination of the extent of defendants' resistance to the court's orders and what measures are necessary to compel movants' ongoing compliance with its orders and provide comprehensive relief to the plaintiff class for movants' contempt," Snow wrote. "Moreover, the court's intervention in witness examination was particularly appropriate in light of the fact that defendants had restricted plaintiffs' ability to develop the evidentiary record by withholding discoverable evidence."
Snow also said Arpaio and Sheridan can't be granted recusal because the first judge assigned to the case, then-U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia, recused herself due to critical public comments made by her activist sister against Arpaio.
"The limit on successive affidavits is considered necessary to prevent litigants from disqualifying each judge designated to the case and thereby avoid any disposition of its merits," Snow wrote.
Attorneys for Arpaio, Sheridan, and the ACLU were not immediately available for comment.
Snow has scheduled a status conference for July 20 to determine the second phase of civil contempt hearings.
Arpaio calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff."