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Judge agrees to delay criminal trial of ex-Arizona sheriff

PHOENIX — A judge on Wednesday postponed former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s trial on a criminal contempt-of-court charge alleging he ignored a 2011 court order to stop his immigration patrols.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said she reluctantly agreed to the delay after Arpaio’s lead attorney quit the case last week. Other lawyers who recently joined his legal team said they didn’t have enough time to properly prepare for the trial that had been set to begin April 25.

A new trial date has not yet been set, though dates in June have been proposed.

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“While I am not happy about it, I don’t think that it’s fair to the defendant to place him in a position now where all of his lawyers have only been in the case for a few weeks,” Bolton said.

Arpaio, who served as sheriff in the Phoenix area, faces the misdemeanor charge after prolonging his immigration patrols for 17 months — even though a judge in a racial profiling case had ordered them stopped.

He has acknowledged extending the patrols but said his defiance wasn’t intentional. If convicted, the 84-year-old could face up to six months in jail.

The contempt case is believed to have contributed to Arpaio’s defeat in November after 24 years in office.

Arpaio wasn’t in court for Wednesday’s hearing

In a closed-door hearing last week, Arpaio’s lead attorney Mel McDonald was allowed to quit the case after citing ethical concerns.

The judge said Wednesday that it wasn’t Arpaio’s fault that McDonald withdrew from the case and revealed that McDonald’s exit was prompted by a claim by another Arpaio attorney, Mark Goldman, that the lawman had received improper legal advice earlier in the case.

The postponement came after Arpaio’s lawyers had made three other unsuccessful requests in recent weeks to delay the trial.

Attorney Jack Wilenchik, one of the newest members of Arpaio’s legal team, declined to comment outside of court on whether Arpaio, an ally of President Donald Trump, is seeking a pardon from the administration.

The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing was to consider Arpaio’s request to put his criminal case on hold until another court rules on an appeal of an earlier civil contempt finding against the lawman. That request was denied by Bolton.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.

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