The ethnic profiling lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is officially set to begin in a few weeks. The trial was nearly jeopardized when questions arose as to whether or not U.S. District Judge Murray Snow should stay on the case. Had he not rejected handing the matter to another judge, the trial most likely would have been pushed back until after the November election in which Arpaio is seeking a sixth term. The trial is now set to begin as scheduled on July 19.
Snow initially raised the possibility of his recusal in mid-June after lawyers who are pressing the lawsuit on behalf of a small group of Latinos had learned that the judge’s brother-in-law, Keith Teel, is a partner in the firm for which they work. Teel isn’t a lawyer in the ethnic profiling case and is an insurance, patent, and product liability litigator who works out of the firm’s office in Washington. The lawsuit alleges that officers based some traffic stops on the ethnicity of people in the vehicles and made the stops so they could inquire about their immigration status. Arpaio denies the ethnic profiling allegation, saying people pulled over in the sweeps were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes.
The people who filed the lawsuit aren’t seeking damages but instead want Arpaio to enact changes to guard against what they said is discriminatory policing at his agency. Still, the plaintiff’s attorneys can seek reimbursement for their time and costs if they win.
Earlier in the case, when some of the firm’s lawyers took over the case for another firm, the judge considered whether to remove himself, but concluded that he could continue. At the time, Snow didn’t tell the attorneys in the case that he had considered recusing himself. But the judge revisited the issue after attorneys for those who filed the ethnic profiling case recently broached the subject when they learned of the judge’s relationship to Teel.
Attorneys on both sides said they wanted Snow to remain on the case and that no reasonable observer could conclude the judge would be biased because of his relationship to Teel.
Snow, who is the second judge to hear the case, wrote in his ruling that even if the attorneys for Teel’s firm win and are awarded fees, Teel wouldn’t receive any financial benefit due to steps taken by his firm to keep him from the case. Then-U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia was originally assigned the case, but recused herself in July 2009 when Arpaio’s attorneys questioned her impartiality because Murguia’s twin sister was the leader of the National Council of La Raza, a prominent advocacy group for Latinos.
At the time, the sheriff’s lawyers argued that the group had concluded that the enforcement of federal immigration laws by local police would likely lead to profiling of Latinos.
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