PHOENIX (AP) — Former Phoenix-area sheriff Joe Arpaio made his first court appearance Wednesday as a civilian after losing his bid for re-election and heard a federal judge say she's inclined to decide whether he's guilty of contempt-of-court rather than grant his request for a jury trial.
Arpaio looked calm and focused after making his way to court. He entered the front doors of the courthouse with two lawyers and two former sheriff's aides — a much smaller entourage than his days as sheriff, when bodyguards drove him around in a sedan.
In the past, he dodged reporters outside the courtroom by leaving through a backdoor. But he had to walk past them on Wednesday in full view of news cameras.
He told them he wasn't disappointed by the possibility that the judge will decide his case.
"Let nature take its course. I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "Let's see what happens."
Prosecutors said Arpaio was trying to turn the trial into a political spectacle by having a jury hear the case.
Authorities charged the 84-year-old Arpaio with the misdemeanor count after saying he prolonged his immigration patrols for months after a judge in a racial-profiling case had ordered them stopped.
Arpaio has acknowledged violating the order but insists his actions weren't intentional.
It's unclear how the Justice Department in the Trump administration will handle the case going forward.
Arpaio campaigned and shared the stage with Donald Trump on several occasions last year, and the sheriff has similar views on immigration as the president's pick for attorney general, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican.
Arpaio's attorney Mel McDonald declined to comment on whether he plans to seek a pardon for his client.
"He is a good, decent man," McDonald said of the former sheriff. "And it just kills me to see someone that's 84 years old going through this pressure at this time in his life,"
Prolonging the patrols fueled an increase in taxpayer-funded legal costs and is believed to have contributed to Arpaio's election loss in November after 24 years in office.
He could face up to six months in jail if convicted. His trial is set for April 25.
In arguing for a jury trial, McDonald said the actions of public officials should be decided by impartial juries.
However, John Keller, a prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department, said Arpaio wants to call into question the motives of U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who is presiding over the profiling case and recommended the criminal contempt charge.
Defendants who face only a misdemeanor charge wouldn't normally be able to get a jury trial, Keller said.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton seemed to agree, saying she is leaning toward deciding the case herself. She did not elaborate.
Keller also denied Arpaio's claim that the Justice Department politicized the case by declaring a hearing a day before early voting started in Arizona that it had agreed to prosecute him.
Keller said the government had wanted to hold the hearing about a month earlier, but Arpaio's attorney sought an October hearing.
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