Federal Judge Rejects Joe Arpaio's Bid To Vacate Criminal Conviction

Published: Thursday, October 19, 2017 - 6:03pm
Updated: Friday, October 20, 2017 - 3:07pm

(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
Joe Arpaio

Going against the requests of both defense attorneys and federal prosecutors, Judge Susan Bolton has decided not to vacate her guilty ruling in the criminal contempt case against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

In light of President Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, both sides had asked for the judge to throw the ruling out. Arpaio’s attorneys asked the judge to vacate all rulings issued in the case, while the government requested the judge specifically vacate the guilty verdict calling it administrative housekeeping.

Earlier this month Judge Susan Bolton accepted the pardon and dismissed the case and heard arguments from both sides as to how she should proceed.

But in her order Thursday denying those motions, the federal judge cited legal precedent saying a presidential pardon “does not erase a judgment of conviction, or its underlying legal and factual findings.” Bolton said in her ruling the power to pardon was a “executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial recordkeeping.” Bolton wrote that while the pardon spared Arpaio from punishment, it did not revise the historical facts of the case.

Arpaio attorney Jack Wilenchik said because of the pardon, the former sheriff will never have the chance to appeal the ruling, leaving him open to future lawsuits.

“What if an illegal alien who claims they were wrongfully detained were to sue civilly, then the fact that he was convicted of willfully defying the court order could be used against him," said Wilenchik.

Wilenchik said he was not surprised that the judge had refused to undo her own order. He said he has appealed the judge’s order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

ACLU Attorney Cecillia Wang represented the plaintiffs in the civil rights case against Arpaio that led to the criminal contempt case. She said Judge Bolton got it right.

"Arpaio wasn't satisfied with a pardon, he wanted her to erase the factual record in the case," she said. Wang believes both Arpaio and the U.S. Department of Justice were wrong on the law.

"The world knows what Joe Arpaio did and that record will now stand," she said.

She called Arpaio's attorneys for an appeal "spurious."

"Arpaio could have appealed the conviction to the 9th Circuit if he believed he was not guilty," she said. "Instead, he accepted President Trump's pardon which as Judge Bolton noted in her order carries an acceptance of responsibility for the crime. His own actions are what deprived him of the chance to keep fighting this in court."

Wang believes the order to deny vacatur will stand against the appeal.

"The District Court had a sound legal basis to deny Arpaio's attempt to erase the historical record," Wang said. "The judiciary has an interest in making sure its orders are followed."

Promise Arizona Executive Director Petra Falcon said the order is especially important for the Latino community.

"We took a lot of ownership in making sure that Arpaio paid for his crimes," Falcon said. "The community, the grass roots organizations, the many many volunteers, who worked with the legal team to get this to court — they took that responsibility to hold Arpaio accountable for his wrongdoings. I think it was important for the judge to realize that and to keep those efforts on the record."

"We had always said even though the President pardoned Sheriff Arpaio, that history could not be changed and this decision upholds that belief," Falcon said.

Falcon believes the ruling will have a galvanizing affect on future social justice movements.

"It means hope. It means we can continue to win in the streets, we can continue to win in the courts and we can continue to win in the polling booth," she said.

Falcon said Promise Arizona and other groups can now move forward in what she called the pursuit of dignity and respect.

"That's the message here," she said. "We still have a country of values and we still have a country where justice can be upheld for the most vulnerable."

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