Today is the deadline for Respect Arizona, the group trying to recall Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to submit more than 335,000 valid signatures needed to set a recall election. More than two months ago, friends of Arpaio filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court to block the recall effort, claiming it was unconstitutional.
Just yesterday, in a status conference, the judge in that case first told attorneys that he has a potential conflict in the case and asked them if a new judge was needed. The minute entry was posted this morning, and is posted below the jump.
The minute entry does not specify what the potential conflict is. However, from Arizona's Politics' research, the possible conflict may be that Judge Michael Herrod was a partner in the law firm that is representing Sheriff Arpaio (2nd paragraph of the background) in the federal case that just resulted in a finding that the Sheriff's Office has been engaged in racial profiling and issuing a permanent injunction against any such unconstitutional behavior. Or, it may be that Herrod and his wife, Cathi Herrod - founder of the Center for Arizona Policy - have made political contributions to Andrew Thomas (Arpaio partner in some of the items that RA say form the basis for the recall).* Or, it may be that the Herrods have politically supported Arpaio himself in the past - it is difficult to search Arpaio's campaign finance documents from past elections (for example).
It is intriguing that the judge chose to wait for more than two months to disclose the potential conflict, when it appears that most of the possible potential conflicts have been known since he was first assigned to the case. It is made more intriguing when coupled with the information that he ignored defendants' motion for an expedited hearing on their motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the mere fact of the lawsuit lingering was having a negative impact on their recall efforts.
Other interesting news from the status conference minute entry is that the judge set three hours of oral argument on all of the pending motions (to dismiss, for sanctions, for injunctions) for June 25. This is not only after the deadline to turn in the signatures, but it will be after the deadline for Sheriff Arpaio to file a separate legal action challenging the signatures (if they are turned in).
Some of the issues raised by the parties in their motions will still be relevant - such as whether the lawsuit was filed to harass or intimidate the recall organizers - others will no longer be. The underlying issue of the case, whether the recall petition violated the Arizona Constitution by not waiting until Arpaio had served six months of his latest term, will either be moot because the signatures were not turned in (or, there was found to not be sufficient valid signatures) or the separate ballot challenge will have already had a chance to hear it. (Challenge filed by June 13, super-fast-tracked.)
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