Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was officially charged with criminal contempt of court by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton. The charge puts his political and personal future in a limbo.
A trial is set for Dec. 6 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
“We plan on vigorously contesting each and every one of the allegations in the order to show cause,” defense attorney Mel McDonald said.
"We believe that when the final chapter is written, he will be vindicated," he added.
If convicted, the infamous sheriff could face up to six months in jail. But a misdemeanor conviction would not bar Arpaio from serving as sheriff. However, under state law, if convicted of felony, he would have to resign his office even if he is re-elected.
Democratic challenger Paul Penzone said Arpaio, through his acts of political defiance, has no one to blame but himself for the charges.
"It's another example of the sheriff putting his own personal objectives ahead of the best interest of the community at our expense," Penzone said.
The criminal charges against the Maricopa County Sheriff initiated with the profiling case Arpaio lost three years ago that morphed into a contempt case after the sheriff was accused of defying a 2011 court order to stop his signature immigration patrols.
Arpaio has acknowledged violating U.S. District Judge Murray Snow's order but insists his disobedience was not intentional.
The controversial official, known for his tough stance on immigration, was being investigated over allegations of racial profiling.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges that his office routinely discriminated against Latinos. He also faces a federal grand jury investigation into the activities of his anti-corruption unit, and a forthcoming re-election bid in Maricopa County.
Not only does the ruling put his aim of re-election for a seventh term under a dark cloud, he has an opponent to worry about as well. Challenger Penzone has plans to unseat the controversial sheriff.
A recently conducted poll shows Penzone has the support of nearly 45.9 percent as opposed to Arpaio's 31.1 percent.
Arpaio’s campaign manager Chad Willems disputed the poll results, saying that the campaign's own survey has the sheriff leading Penzone by 7.5 points.
“The recent ‘poll’ by the Arizona Republic is a complete joke,” said Willems in a statement to Reuters, adding that Democrats were disproportionately included in the survey’s sample size.
“The numbers in no way accurately depict the electorate of Maricopa County, Arizona," he said. "Why they chose to conduct their survey this way is beyond any comprehension.”
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Brian Snyder