PHOENIX — An Arizona sheriff squared off in court Thursday with a federal judge who peppered him with tough questions about an allegation that the lawman investigated the jurist in a bid to get him removed from a racial profiling case.
The 30-minute exchange between Sheriff Joe Arpaio and U.S. District Judge Murray Snow marked the second time since April that the judge has personally questioned the sheriff about one of his secret investigations.
Snow has said previously that the investigation was intended to show that the judge and U.S. Department of Justice were conspiring against Arpaio.
The sheriff adamantly insisted he wasn't investigating the judge and instead said the examination focused on allegations that someone had stolen bank account information from thousands of people and that someone wiretapped his phone and those of his lawyers.
Arpaio testified Thursday that he ordered his employees not to investigate the judge, even though a confidential informant had given his employees a flow chart that purported to back up the now-discredited conspiracy claim.
Snow pointed out that he had asked the sheriff during their courtroom exchange during April whether Arpaio knew of anyone investigating the judge. Arpaio said no and stood by that answer on Thursday.
"I don't think there was any investigation (of the judge)," Arpaio said. "You just showed up on a flow chart."
The sheriff said he didn't give the document any credence. His office continued working with the informant, but eventually concluded he wasn't reliable. Even so, Arpaio said the informant had provided records purportedly showing that the lawman's phones had been tapped.
In the past, the sheriff has been accused of retaliating against critics.
The judge's questioning concluded Arpaio's four days of testimony at his contempt-of-court hearings over his disobedience of Snow's orders in the profiling case.
Arpaio's meek courtroom demeanor contrasted starkly with his reputation for bravado and defiance.
He wore a pair of earphones so he could hear questions posed by lawyers. Arpaio's voice was so quiet at times that he couldn't be heard in the back of the courtroom gallery. He said he did not recall when asked if he remembered a specific meeting during which the investigation in question was discussed.
Arpaio has acknowledged the contempt violations, including letting his officers conduct immigration patrols for 18 months after Snow had ordered them stopped.
The six-term sheriff faces civil fines and could face a criminal contempt case on the same grounds.