In what looks like a last-ditch effort to save face, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has dropped the lawsuit that had accused local county supervisors and others of being part of a criminal enterprise, saying the U.S. Justice Department has agreed to look into the allegations.
At a press conference yesterday, the hardline anti-illegal-immigration sheriff and his allies — county prosecutor Andrew Thomas, and Robert Driscoll, the former Bush DOJ lawyer hired last year by the sheriff’s office — maintained that the move represented a “victory,” because all they were seeking was a full investigation of the allegations, something, they say, that the Justice Department’s Public Integrity section has pledged to conduct.
In fact though, as the Phoenix New Times points out, the original complaint had asked for much more, including:
• “Triple damages” each of the defendants had allegedly caused by their actions.
• Payment of their legal fees.
• The ability to “enforce the criminal and civil laws” without hindrance.
• Protection from offensive actions by the county.
• Any other relief the court chose to grant them.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it has indeed agreed to look into the allegations.
The sprawling allegations in the lawsuit, filed in December, center on the charge that the Maricopa County supervisors, county judges, and their lawyers all conspired to thwart a sheriff’s office probe into the construction of a new court tower — a project Arpaio has long opposed. The sheriff and his team have produced little evidence to substantiate the charges, which many legal observers have dismissed them as baseless, and the lawsuit appears to have been in danger of getting thrown out by a judge.
Arpaio’s office is itself currently the subject of a federal grand jury investigation into whether his office violated civil rights laws when making immigration arrests, and whether it pursued politically motivated investigations. Arpaio last year hired Driscoll — who declined yesterday to tell reporters how much he’s being paid — in an apparent effort to slowroll that probe.