A federal judge hearing the contempt of court case against Maricopa, Arizona, County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday stayed further proceedings until a dispute over his involvement in the case is resolved.
Judge G. Murray Snow’s decision came after a second motion for his removal arrived in U.S. District Court. An earlier motion, filed by attorney Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch on behalf of a whistleblower who was drawn into the Arpaio case, Dennis Montgomery, was rejected both by Snow and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Klayman also submitted a request for reconsideration Friday on his motion.
At the center of the effort to remove the judge from the case is a statement from a witness, Karen Morris Grissom, who told the sheriff the judge hates him. The witness explained to Arpaio that she was a childhood friend of the judge’s wife.
Mrs. Snow, Grissom said, “told me that her husband hates u and will do anything to get u out of office.”
“This has bothered me since last year when I saw her.”
The latest effort to remove Snow came from A. Melvin McDonald and Michele Iafrate, who have been representing Arpaio in a case that stemmed from claims the sheriff failed to follow the court’s orders regarding his department’s policing procedures.
“No doubt, moving for the recusal or disqualification of any sitting judge is a serious matter,” their motion stated. “Under statute, case law, and judicial canons, the perception of judicial bias and the appearance of impropriety, punctuated by the material witness status of the presiding judge’s spouse, mandate the recusal and disqualification of the Honorable G. Murray Snow.
“By his own official inquiry, statements, and questions in open court on the record, one of the investigations into which Judge Snow unexpectedly inquired during recent contempt proceedings concerns his spouse, Sheri Snow,” the new motion explained. “No reasonable person with knowledge of the facts can deny that Judge Snow is now investigating and presiding over issues involving his own family. This alone is sufficient to mandate recusal and disqualification.”
The original case was based on claims the sheriff’s office profiled “Latino motorists,” and Snow issued a preliminary injunction for that to stop. His order came one week before the recall petition for Sheriff Arpaio was due, the motion noted.
Snow then issued additional findings and conclusions, and the court returned its attention to the case when “problematic activity” on the part of a deputy surfaced on video. The video also detailed alleged “immigration interdiction operations” and the detention of suspects “after officers concluded that there was no criminal law basis for such detention.”
So Snow called for civil contempt proceedings for Arpaio.
During the inquisitions, the judge “embarked on his own inquiries,” the motion said.
Regarding the Grissom statement, for example, Snow questioned Arpaio about any investigations of the judge’s family members. The motion explains three members of the Grissom family were interviewed, their testimony remained unshaken and they were called credible witnesses. But the investigation was not done by the sheriff’s department.
Snow also investigated the sheriff’s department’s use of an informant, Montgomery, which, the motion states, violates judicial rules requiring an unbiased judge. The rules state that a judge must leave a case if there is even the appearance of bias.
“The interests of Judge Snow and his spouse are substantially affected by the outcome of this proceeding. Judge Snow himself has recognized that the documents involved in the Montgomery investigation ‘appear to allege or suggest that this court had contact with the Department of Justice about this case before the court was ever assigned to it.’ Moreover, Judge Snow stated on the record that the Montgomery investigation appears to allege that the random selection process of this court was subverted so that the case was deliberately assigned to him and that he had conversations with Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer about this case.”
The motion said Mrs. Snow is “undoubtedly a material witness in this proceeding (i.e., whether she made the statement at issue and/or what she meant by it and the context in how it was made),” the document explains.”
“Whether a sitting judge is admittedly biased toward a defendant in his court and will do anything to ensure he is not re-elected is – without question – a conflict that creates grounds for recusal.”
The attorneys also worry the judge “apparently took evidence outside of court.”
“He clearly stated that he engaged in an investigation outside the courtroom during a lunch break. In addition, Judge Snow also asked leading questions on irrelevant matters during the contempt proceeding.”
They also accuse him of giving his own testimony in court, being argumentative with a witness, interrupting a witness and even demanding “documents that may be protected by the work product doctrine or attorney client privilege” regarding Klayman and Montgomery.
An affidavit from Arpaio explains that the judge’s behavior had been questionable several times throughout the case. At one point, the judge “demanded that I have ‘skin in the game’ and, specifically, that I pay a sanction from my personal funds and not from any fund created to assist me in my legal defense.”
The demand was made even though the sheriff was named as a defendant in his official capacity not as an individual.
Instead of approving the sheriff’s offer to pay $100,000 from his personal funds to a civil rights organization to settle concerns, the judge asked the U.S. attorney to attend the court proceedings to determine “whether sufficient evidence would be present to justify criminal contempt proceedings.”
WND reported when the recusal motion on behalf of Montgomery was submitted.
Montgomery also is involved in a case in Washington in which Klayman asked a federal judge to interview him in secret “about the unconstitutional and illegal surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency that is highly relevant and of crucial important … as he worked closely with these agencies following the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.”
In support of the motion on behalf of Montgomery was a sworn declaration of “renowned ethics professor and expert Ronald Rotunda.”
The statement explains Montgomery was caught in the “crossfire” in the case.
As a result, Montgomery’s due process, attorney-client privileges, work product and intellectual property rights have been violated, the brief contends.
Said Klayman: “Judge Snow’s actions are outrageous. Never before have I seen such a blatant, unethical attempt by a federal judge to pursue his own interests. … The longer it takes to remove this ‘runaway jurist,’ the longer Mr. Montgomery will be subject to harm at the hands of an out of control federal judge.”
Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley chair and distinguished professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law, said, “It appears that the judge is getting most of his ‘information’ from articles of the Phoenix New Times.”
He explained that according to the transcript, Snow was “cross-examining the witness” and was asking “various leading questions.”
“The judge apparently engaged in his own investigation of facts outside the courtroom he thought relevant that were not in evidence. … The judge said, ‘I was told [during the luncheon break] that you also have various sources of funding within the MSCO,’ and Sheriff Arpaio responded that the judge’s information was false. The judge did not say who told him this false information, nor does he say if he questioned others as well.”
The analysis notes that the judge even interrupted a witness, “preventing him from finishing his sentence.”
And then he became even “more argumentative,” the analysis states.
“I am told that Judge Snow is now ordering that documents showing communications with or referring to Larry Klayman, the lawyer for Mr. Montgomery, be turned over to him, including documents covered at least by the Attorney Work Product Privilege.”
He said the pertinent facts were that Klayman and Montgomery “are not parties to this case” and no subpoenas have been issued.
He concluded: “We know that several people report that the judge’s wife said that her husband, Judge Snow, ‘Judge Snow wanted to do everything to make sure [that Sheriff Arpaio is] not reelected.’ It should be quite obvious that whatever the duties of a federal judge are, that job description does not include conducting a judicial proceeding in a way to ensure that Sheriff Arpaio is not elected and to pursue an investigation that is even broader than that for what appears to be personal reasons.”