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Arpaio attorney expresses hope that contempt-of-court case against sheriff will get settled

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PHOENIX — A lawyer for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has expressed hope that a contempt-of-court case over his client's acknowledged disobedience of court orders in a racial profiling lawsuit could be settled before the lawman undergoes contempt hearings next month.

Arpaio attorney John Masterson said at a court hearing Friday that he hopes the contempt case can be resolved through discussions with opposing lawyers over the types of changes that they'll ask a judge to impose against the police agency for the violations.

Cecillia Wang, one of the attorneys pressing the case against the sheriff, said it's difficult to say whether a settlement is likely, considering that Arpaio's office still hasn't handed over all the documents sought in the contempt case. "It's hard to reach a settlement when you don't even have the information," Wang said.

Wang declined to specify the types of changes that will be sought against the sheriff's office, but she said generally that the agency suffers from a lack of accountability and isn't adequately investigating allegations of wrongdoing by officers.

Arpaio tried unsuccessfully during the spring to settle the contempt allegations and, in the process, acknowledged three violations of U.S. District Judge Murray Snow's orders in the profiling case. In one violation, the sheriff's office ignored a 2011 order to halt Arpaio's signature immigration patrols, leading officers to continue them for about 18 months.

Contempt hearings that began in April are scheduled to resume Sept. 22. The hearings could lead to fines, increased oversight of the agency and a possible criminal contempt hearing for the sheriff.

Arpaio and four aides have been accused of contempt of court for violating the 2011 order to stop the immigration patrols.

Snow said he hasn't heard any evidence so far that that would suggest that the actions of Lt. Joseph Sousa, the former leader of Arpaio's now-closed immigrant smuggling squad, rose to the level of constituting contempt of court. Still, the judge noted that he isn't dismissing the contempt case against Sousa just yet.

Six weeks ago, Arpaio and the U.S. Justice Department settled a separate civil rights case against the sheriff's office.

The settlement resolves allegations that Arpaio's office retaliated against the sheriff's critics, discriminated against Latinos in business raids targeting identity theft by immigrants and punished Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish.

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