PHOENIX — A surprising name has been added to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s witness list at his upcoming criminal contempt-of-court trial: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose agency is prosecuting the lawman for defying a judge’s order to stop his immigration patrols.
Jack Wilenchik, one of Arpaio’s attorneys, said Sessions’ testimony would underscore a contradiction between current federal immigration policy and the 2011 court order that his client is charged with violating.
The attorney general’s name was added to the list in a court filing Wednesday night.
On Thursday night, U. S. District Judge Susan Bolton set new dates for Arpaio’s bench trial — June 26-30 and July 5-7.
It had had been scheduled to begin April 25, but Bolton reluctantly agreed Wednesday 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.
Arpaio, 84, faces the misdemeanor contempt charge for letting his immigration patrols continue after a judge in a racial profiling case had ordered them stopped.
Arpaio has acknowledged prolonging the patrols but insists his defiance wasn’t intentional. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to six months in jail.
The 2011 order forbids sheriff’s deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they’re in the country illegally.
The judge presiding over the profiling case had concluded that Arpaio’s officers continued to detain such immigrants over a 17-month period and turned them over to federal immigration authorities.
Wilenchik said the prohibition on detaining immigrants who hadn’t been suspected of committing state crimes conflicts with a federal policy backed by Sessions that calls for all adult immigrants who are caught near the border to be apprehended, rather than being released.
In a speech this week at the Arizona-Mexico border, Sessions said “the catch and release practices of the past are over.”
The U.S. Justice Department, whose attorneys are prosecuting Arpaio, declined to comment Thursday.
Paul Charlton, a former U.S. attorney who has been critical of Arpaio’s practices and isn’t involved in the contempt case, said the chances of Sessions testifying at the trial are slim to none.
He said Sessions was serving as a U.S. senator when the criminal case was brought against Arpaio and likely wouldn’t have direct knowledge of the events leading to the criminal charge.
“It would be difficult to image how Mr. Sessions would have anything relevant to say,” Charlton said.
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