A federal appeals court ordered appointment of a special prosecutor to defend a ruling that now-pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s criminal conviction was not expunged for disobeying a 2011 court order to halt traffic stops targeting immigrants.
The U.S. Justice Department refused to defend the judge’s ruling that Arpaio’s criminal record remains intact so the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote, ordered appointment of a special prosecutor on Tuesday.
Following Arpaio’s pardon, the trial judge dismissed Arpaio’s case but did not throw out court records related to his conviction.
Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court in July 2017 for failing to adhere to orders to stop conducting traffic stops of Hispanic drivers looking for undocumented immigrants. He was due to be sentenced to prison in October 2017 but President Trump issued a pardon in August.
Arpaio went to court asking to dismiss his case and asking the court to vacate the guilty verdict. The district court granted his request to dismiss the case and abandon the sentencing. But the judge refused to vacate the conviction.
Arpaio appealed and lawyers from the U.S. DOJ refused to send an attorney to defend the judge’s decision.
Because the U.S. has abandoned any defense of the district court’s decision, the appeals panel that will decide the case “will not receive the benefits of full briefing and argument unless we appoint a special prosecutor to defend the decision of the district court.”
Joining in the unsigned majority are Judges Wallace Tashima and William Fletcher.
In dissent, Judge Richard Tallman called the ruling “ill-advised.”
Case: US v. Arpaio, No. 17-10448