PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Prosecutors say a ruling that explains the reasons for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's criminal conviction should be thrown out now that President Donald Trump has pardoned the Arizona lawman for disobeying a judge's order in an immigration case.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a filing Monday that it agreed with Arpaio's attorneys who argued the lawman's conviction and the 14-page ruling should be voided, arguing the case and any punitive consequence from it are mooted by the pardon.
The filing brings Arpaio's criminal case one step closer to a conclusion after the lawman's attorneys argued the ruling should be tossed in a bid to clear their client's name and bar its use in future court cases as an example of a prior bad act. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who found Arpaio guilty, hasn't yet carried out the formality of dismissing the case.
Two weeks ago, Trump pardoned Arpaio's misdemeanor contempt of court conviction for intentionally disobeying another federal judge's 2011 order to stop his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. The lawman was accused of continuing the patrols for 17 months so that he could promote his immigration enforcement efforts in a bid to boost his successful 2012 re-election campaign.
Arpaio, who endorsed Trump and appeared alongside him at rallies during the 2016 campaign, has acknowledged prolonging the patrols. But he insisted his disobedience wasn't intentional and blamed one of his former attorneys for not adequately explaining the importance of the order.
In the ruling that Arpaio now wants tossed, Bolton cited TV interviews and news releases in which the sheriff made comments made about keeping up the patrols, even though he knew they were no longer allowed. "Not only did defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise," Bolton wrote in the July 31 verdict.
Since the pardon, Arpaio has said he didn't do anything wrong, criticized Bolton as biased and called the offense for which he had been convicted a "petty crime."
Arpaio, who was defeated in the same election that sent Trump to the White House, is now talking about getting back into politics.
In an unusual move for a criminal case, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center petitioned Bolton to let Arpaio's conviction stand.
The group, which is a public-interest law firm that advocates for human rights and social justice, said the Arpaio pardon would have "the effect of eviscerating the judicial enforcement of constitutional rights."
Meanwhile, Paul Bender, a Constitutional Law professor at Arizona State University, said wiping out every trace of the case against Arpaio would be a very bad thing.
"A judge says 'don't do that' somebody does it, judge holds someone in contempt, President comes along and says 'I will not let you do that'," said Bender. "Judge needs power to hold in contempt, because if judges don't have that power, people will start disobeying their orders."
Bender said the pardon issued for Arpaio means he doesn't get punished, but it doesn't mean he didn't break the law.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.