Friday, April 6, 2012

AZ: Negotiations between Arpaio, DOJ fall apart

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday rejected outright the U.S. Justice Department's demand for an independent monitor to oversee his office's operations, saying it would infringe on his authority over the agency.

Arpaio's decision makes it likely that the two sides will face off in federal court in what both parties expect to be a lengthy and expensive court battle to settle government allegations that Arpaio's deputies discriminate against Latino residents.

The Justice Department last December released findings from a three-year investigation into the Sheriff's Office that accused it of rampant discrimination against Latinos in its police and jail operations.

Negotiations on remedies were expected to begin within weeks, with the explicit threat of a federal lawsuit if negotiations were unsuccessful.

This week, a top Justice Department attorney contacted Arpaio's lawyers and told them that agreement on the presence of an independent monitor was among the crucial elements required to continue negotiations and avoid a lawsuit.

Arpaio flatly rejected a monitor Tuesday, however, calling it a political attempt by President Barack Obama's administration to take control of daily operations in the Sheriff's Office.

"None of us agreed to allow a federal monitor to come remove my authority as the elected sheriff of Maricopa County," Arpaio said. "I feel that turning my office over to the federal government would be a dereliction of my duty."

The Justice Department declined to comment Tuesday. But a letter from Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General Roy Austin to Arpaio's lawyers indicates Austin believes the Sheriff's Office previously agreed to a court-appointed monitor as part of the government's attempts to remedy alleged profiling that investigators identified in the office.

"DOJ considers the oversight of an independent monitor to be an absolute necessity for meaningful and sustainable reform of MCSO," Austin wrote. "It was disappointing, to say the least, for you to contact us 24 hours before our negotiations were scheduled to continue and raise, for the first time, a precondition that you understood would result in the cancellation of negotiations -- and, by extension, the initiation of a civil lawsuit -- and calls into question whether you were ever interested in settling this matter."

The negotiations were tinged with animosity from the beginning.

Arpaio vowed in January to cooperate with the federal government, but his promise came with an unsuccessful demand that the Justice Department produce detailed records to support its allegations of discrimination.

The two parties put their differences aside for a single day of meetings in Phoenix in early February and released a joint statement that reiterated each agency's promise to negotiate in good faith. The statement said both sides expected to have an agreement by mid-April to resolve profiling allegations.

Based on correspondence released Tuesday, that was the last face-to-face meeting between Arpaio's attorneys and Justice Department lawyers.

The Justice Department sent Arpaio a 128-page draft of a proposed settlement in late February that, according to Arpaio's attorneys, contained the demand for a court-appointed monitor. The two parties were going to begin negotiating that agreement today, but each side's reluctance to budge on the monitor made the meeting moot.

Arpaio's attorneys said even if the sheriff refused to OK a court-ordered agreement and presence of a court-appointed monitor, there were other issues the sides could have resolved in negotiations.

"Tomorrow was supposed to be the day that we started negotiation on all terms in the proposed agreement," said Joseph Popolizio, an Arpaio attorney. "At that point, we were going to discuss the things we may be able to agree on, things we may not be able to agree on. ... They were negotiations to start, nothing was agreed to beforehand."

The issue of a monitor being part of any solution should not have come as a surprise. The findings of the Justice Department's investigation, presented to Arpaio in December, mentioned that a monitor and a consent decree would be necessary.

"Given the systemic nature of the constitutional violations, effective compliance in this case will require federal judicial oversight; a court-enforceable agreement will provide the structure, transparency and accountability necessary to achieve sustained success," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote last December.

The presence of a court-appointed monitor is also frequently an element in the Justice Department's attempts to resolve civil-rights violations in any agency, said William Yeomans, an American University law professor and a 25-year veteran of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "It's standard practice to request an outside monitor. This is not something they came up with for Sheriff Joe," Yeomans said.

The monitor's background and qualifications are also frequently the subject of negotiations between Justice Department attorneys and representatives of law-enforcement agencies, Yeomans said, with each side suggesting candidates. Agreements can include restrictions on the monitor's powers over the department.

"It's not as if Obama can appoint someone and say, 'Go get Sheriff Joe,'" Yeomans said.

The decision for the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against an uncooperative law-enforcement agency would be a rare one, Yeomans said. Typically, when the Justice Department takes legal action against an agency, the two parties have agreed to settlement terms.

"This one, it sounds like they really are at bitter odds," Yeomans said. "If the county decides that it doesn't want to settle, then this will go to litigation, and it will be long and expensive."

A lawsuit could also bring the parties back to the negotiating table, Yeomans said.

Arpaio and his attorneys said repeatedly Tuesday that they welcome the opportunity to come to an agreement with the Justice Department. But Arpaio and his supporters also believe the civil-rights investigation is a ploy by the Obama administration to curry favor with Hispanic voters.

"If they want to go to court, we'll go to court," Arpaio said. "We'll go to court, which is great. Let the court decide."


Patchwork immigration policy must do for now

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Part of the puzzle of immigration policy turns on the economic impacts of the presence of an estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

On the one hand, we have an economy fed by demand for produce and services that, for the most part, cannot be met with a legal labor force at the prices we care to pay. On the other are consumers who bear higher costs for education, health care, infrastructure and entitlements because of the inability to hold the illegal population financially responsible for its demands on those systems.

The social impacts are no less problematic. Policies that separate long-established families, tearing at the cohesion of communities, hurt citizens and the undocumented alike.

Dissatisfaction with president Obama's inability to convince Congress to reform immigration laws has fallen on both sides of the aisle, so with the election cycle turning again, efforts to "soften the effects of immigration," as he told Univision last month, are no surprise in a country with 50 million Hispanics.

Federal policy has evolved to this point to focus on criminal illegal immigrants and steer away from "low-priority" cases. It manifests itself in enforcement programs with limited funding, and in an attempt to consider the impact of forced separations on families.

In SouthCoast, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson has been a staunch advocate of Secure Communities, part of the enforcement piece.

Sen. Scott Brown was in Dartmouth this week to offer support to the sheriff. He said the program that shares fingerprint information with federal officials allows local law enforcement to better protect the public.

Brown's presumptive opponent in this November's race for Massachusetts' junior Senate seat, Elizabeth Warren, counters that the policy creates a barrier between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

Hodgson argues that to leave Secure Communities unenforced is to abet criminal enterprise, hampering not only the police mission, but leaving illegal immigrants themselves more vulnerable: The longer they consider the U.S. a safe haven in the midst of lax laws, the more likely they'll be taken advantage of by unscrupulous document forgers and employment agents, and the muggers and bullies who target those who see no reasonable legal recourse when they find themselves victimized.

It's no surprise that no one seems happy — except the criminals preying on the illegal immigrants — with Obama's inability to lead Congress to take up reform.

In New Bedford, the police have begun to employ the u-visa program, which grants a temporary visa to illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes.

"Anything that encourages people to feel more comfortable reporting crime — that increases public safety," Chief David Provencher said. "If they increase public safety, I don't have a problem with it."


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