PHOENIX — Fresh off his presidential pardon, an emboldened Joe Arpaio on Monday lashed out at his critics and the judge who found him guilty of a crime as his attorneys went to court to throw the court decision that was the basis for his conviction.
The former Arizona sheriff struck a defiant tone in insisting he “didn’t do anything wrong” and questioning whether his judge was fair. His comments came as President Donald Trump took a similar posture in defending his Friday pardon of the former lawman, blaming the Obama administration for Arpaio’s troubles and calling him a “patriot” who fought against illegal immigration.
“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,” Trump said.
Arpaio called U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton biased and questioned the growing number of critics across the United States who denounced his pardon as a political reward for having been an early supporter of Trump’s campaign.
“Why are they speaking out right now? I’ve been sheriff for 24 years. Are they coming out against me because of a biased judge?” Arpaio told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Arpaio, who was voted out of office last year, declined to explain how he believes the judge acted unfairly toward him, saying only that “it’s all documented — the bias and everything else.”
Not only will the pardon erase his contempt of court conviction, it also gave new life to a politician who left office battered after years of scandals over a racial profiling verdict, hundreds of sex-crimes complaints that weren’t properly investigated and racking up $141 million taxpayer-funded costs for defending him in lawsuits. He was soundly defeated in the November election by a Democrat in heavily Republican Maricopa county.
Now, he’s talking about getting back into politics and taking shots at his critics.
Arpaio was found guilty four weeks ago of the misdemeanour contempt charge for defying a 2011 order that he stop carrying out immigration patrols. He prolonged the patrols for 17 months, prompting Bolton to find him guilty in a 14-page ruling issued on July 31.
Bolton cited TV interviews and news releases in which the sheriff made comments made about keeping up the patrols, even though he knew they were no longer allowed. “Not only did defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” Bolton wrote.
Like Trump, Arpaio has a history of sparring with judges. He was accused of investigating the judge who presided over the profiling case. He also made a now-discredited bribery case against a county judge who had ruled against him in 2009.
Arpaio’s lawyers asked Bolton on Monday to throw out the ruling that detailed the conviction against him. Arpaio lawyer Jack Wilenchik said the filing is aimed at clearing his name and barring its use in future court cases as an example of a prior bad act.
Jeffrey Crouch, a professor of politics at American University who has written a book on presidential pardons, said Arpaio’s latest request is unusual. “The pardon itself is usually the last word in a case,” Crouch said.
Cecillia Wang, a lawyer who helped win the racial profiling verdict against Arpaio, said the lawman’s request was outrageous. “Trump may be taking Arpaio off the hook for jail time, but he can’t change history or erase the measure of justice that the court’s findings represent,” Wang said.
No such legal requests were filed into the court record after last presidential pardon of an Arizona politician, former Gov. Fife Symington, who was granted clemency by President Bill Clinton in 2001.
Arpaio said he had sworn off politics after his crushing defeat last year against Democrat Paul Penzone. Since Friday’s pardon, Arpaio said he will return to politics after a large number of supporters have asked him to run again.
He said he hasn’t yet decided whether his future political involvement will consist of running for office again or becoming a regular on the GOP speaking circuit.
“I haven’t decided,” Arpaio said. “But I haven’t gone away.”