Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Watching the Carcass Rot
Readers will remember that the US Department of Justice had called out Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a racist bigot. Arpaio is a panderer, playing to the worst instincts of his constituents, in the tradition of Huey Long or Joe McCarthy. It’s usually a messy business when a panderer’s schemes start to unravel. Sheriff Arpaio’s is certainly messy enough.
Most recently, the Arizona Supreme Court has disbarred Arpaio’s lawyer, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and two of his subordinates.
The 457-page decision is amazing in its own right. The introduction and the conclusion, in particular, are florid, overwrought and borderline hysterical. A sample:
This case is replete with intentionally orchestrated malignant actions. To proclaim they meant no one harm is nonsensical. They meant no one well either.The facts within this multi–chaptered story underscore the misery that lays dormant, expectant and waiting for the moment when such a self–centered theme is played to the staccato machine–gun fire of a series of unethical actions in harmony with malevolent rationalizations. This Panel strongly believes that history will characterize the melodrama inflicted on various individuals at such a staggering cost to the taxpaying public in Maricopa County as tragic, unwarranted and without excuse.
Whew! WC, to his recollection, has never seen “machine-gun” and “harmony” in the same sentence before.
But once you get past the florid introduction, the facts – most of them undisputed – are well laid out and the inferences drawn carefully and systematically. Unhappily, at least for WC, there are no links to the specific ethical rules that respondents Andrew P. Thomas, Lisa M. Aubuchon and Rachael R. Alexander violated. The facts are all there. Their conduct is both objectively and subjectively outrageous. But at no point WC oculd find was there a specific determination that Thomas, Aubuchon and Alexander by their conduct had violated a specific ethical rule.
In Alaska, at least, that omission would cause a reviewing court to send the decision back for more work. Arizona may have different ideas, but before you can conclude someone has broken an ethical rule and should be disbarred, you need to identify the ethical rule involved and show the elements of that rule have been violated. While the decision identifies copious, outrageous conduct, the link to those specific rules seems to be missing.
In the meantime, Thomas and Aubuchon are disbarred for five years. Under Arizona rules they can re-apply for admission to the state bar after that time, but will be re-admitted only on a showing they have rehabilitated themselves. Alexander got six months and one day of suspension, a lesser sanction.
Thomas and Aubuchon held a press conference on April 12, claiming that they were “just doing their job.” Thomas later did a television interview claiming to have done nothing wrong. Of course, if they had been doing their job the unsupported charges Thomas and Aubuchon brought wouldn’t have been dismissed for lack of evidence. And the independent, Colorado-based investigator likely wouldn’t have asserted the charges in the first place. And if Mr. Thomas would address the merits, and not engage in ad hominem fallacies, he’d be more persuasive. As for the claim that “Arizona, after what happened yesterday, has become Mexico,” WC respectfully suggests that it is the other way around. Maricopa County, Sheriff Arpaio’s little fiefdom, is slowly returning to the rule of law and American values.
There are no discipline panels for county sheriffs, of course. The US Department of Justice has a criminal investigation of Sheriff Arpaio under way, but it’s apparently moving very slowly.
As you would expect, there are numerous civil rights cases against Sheriff Joe and Maricopa County, brought by the victims of his outrageous conduct. In a consolidated set out those cases, an Arizona U.S. District Judge recently ruled that Sheriff Arpaio’s conduct was sufficiently outrageous that he should not be entitled to immunity as a government official, but instead should face personal liability. This is punitive damages territory under the federal civil rights statutes.
Sheriff Joe is standing for reelection. Apparently, there’s a decent chance he will be reelected by the good citizens of Maricopa County, which just goes to show that democracy is an imperfect form of government. Because every criminal case Sheriff Joe handles will be colored by his misconduct; his credibility and the credibility of the entire sheriff’s office are badly damaged. Criminal cases going to trial will focus on the credibility of the sheriff’s office deputies and prosecutors involved, not the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Many cases prosecuted by these three will have to be reviewed for prosecutorial misconduct. All this will cost more, cloud and delay justice and divert resources from the main business of protecting the public.
In electing a “law and order” sheriff, Maricopa County has gotten neither.