Ousted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has lost his bid to have a jury decide whether he should be convicted of a criminal contempt-of-court charge for disobeying a court order in a racial profiling case.
Instead, the misdemeanor case against former Arpaio will be decided by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who in a ruling Wednesday rejected arguments that a jury trial was needed to avoid appearance of bias by another judge who had recommended the criminal charge against the retired lawman.
Arpaio is charged with criminal contempt for defying a 2011 court order in the profiling case to stop his immigration patrols. Arpaio, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge, has acknowledged violating the order but insists his actions weren’t intentional.
The 84-year-old could face up to six months in jail if convicted. His trial is set for April 25.
Prolonging the patrols fueled an increase in taxpayer-funded legal costs in the profiling case and is believed to have contributed to the Republican lawman’s election loss in November to Democrat Paul Penzone after 24 years in office.
Mel McDonald, Arpaio’s lawyer, said his client won’t appeal the latest decision. “It’s not surprising,” McDonald said, noting that Bolton had previously said she was leaning toward deciding the case herself. “We wanted a jury, but in life you don’t get everything you want.”
McDonald had argued that an elected official’s actions should be decided by an impartial jury of his peers and that he thought U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who presides over the profiling case, was angry when he recommended the charge.
Bolton said people have no right to jury trials in cases in which their potential jail sentences are limited to six months or less. She also wrote that Snow’s motives aren’t relevant in determining whether Arpaio intentionally defied the court order.
Prosecutors argued the media-savvy Arpaio was trying to turn the trial into a political spectacle by having a jury hear the case.
It’s unclear how the Justice Department in the Trump administration will handle the case going forward.
Arpaio campaigned and shared the stage with Donald Trump on several occasions last year and has similar views on immigration as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
McDonald declined to comment on whether he is seeking a pardon for his client.