ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now to a very high-profile case involving the scrutiny of law enforcement in Arizona. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County around Phoenix, is known across the country for calling himself America's toughest sheriff. Immigration groups say he's guilty of racial profiling. Over the past few years, a federal judge has ordered Arpaio's department to stop detaining immigrants and stop pulling over Latinos on the mere suspicion that they're in the country illegally. Arpaio keeps ignoring those orders. In stunning court testimony back in April, the sheriff acknowledged that he started investigations related to the federal judge on the case. And Arpaio asked the judge to recuse himself. Joining us now to talk about the latest developments in this case is Jude Joffe-Block of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Good morning.
JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: Good morning.
SHAPIRO: OK, so this request for the judge to recuse himself is pretty unusual, partly given how long the judge has been overseeing this case.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Right. Federal Judge Murray Snow has been on this case - it's a class action racial profiling case - for the last six years. Two years ago, Judge Snow ruled against the sheriff. He found Maricopa County Sheriff's Office discriminated against Latinos. And he ordered sweeping changes at the office. But then, it came out last year, the sheriff's office had repeatedly violated court orders. In fact, Arpaio even admitted he's in contempt of court. The judge set a contempt hearing to find out the extent of the violations and determine appropriate remedies, which are likely to include fines. And I think it's interesting to note here that Judge Snow represents the biggest challenge to Arpaio's authority in his six terms as the county's elected sheriff. The judge said he may even refer this case for criminal contempt charges against Arpaio.
SHAPIRO: And the hearing was scheduled to resume next Tuesday. But it has been delayed after this recusal request. Explain what the accusation is that leads the sheriff's attorneys to call on Judge Snow to recuse himself from this case.
JOFFE-BLOCK: So the recusal motion is mostly based on a line of questioning by the judge in April. Judge Snow asked Arpaio directly if anyone had investigated the judge or his family. Arpaio did say he launched two investigations. They began in 2013, right after Judge Snow ruled against the sheriff in the racial profiling case. And many believe these probes were an effort to expose possible bias by Judge Snow and force him off the case. In the first investigation, the sheriff's lawyer hired a private investigator to examine whether the judge's wife said her husband hated Arpaio and wanted to get him out of office.
SHAPIRO: So I understand the reasons for the second probe are in dispute.
JOFFE-BLOCK: That's right. And this is where the story gets even weirder. Arpaio admitted his department hired a man in Seattle named Dennis Montgomery to do a covert investigation. But Arpaio denied the investigation targeted Judges Snow. The sheriff's chief deputy testified that Montgomery had worked for the CIA and had evidence showing the agency was hacking into bank accounts of people in Maricopa County. But Judge Snow has suggested in court that Montgomery was actually hired to prove the judge was colluding with the Department of Justice against Arpaio.
SHAPIRO: Because the Justice Department has its own lawsuit against the sheriff. So what's next?
JOFFE-BLOCK: Once a motion to recuse is filed, it's up to the judge to decide whether to stay on the case or not, though Judge Snow could also choose to let another judge decide. Until then, the whole contempt case is on hold. And meanwhile, Arpaio had a big party this week. He's celebrating 22-and-a-half years in office, which makes him the longest-serving sheriff in Maricopa County history.
SHAPIRO: That is Jude Joffe-Block of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Thank you, Jude.
JOFFE-BLOCK: Thank you.
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