Prosecutors oppose bid for Sessions testimony in Arpaio case

Joe Arpaio

Joe Arpaio

PHOENIX (AP) – Federal prosecutors urged a judge to reject a bid by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio to call Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify at the Arizona lawman's upcoming criminal contempt trial.

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice made the argument in a court filing Monday involving Arpaio's subpoena of Sessions, whose agency is prosecuting the retired sheriff on a misdemeanor contempt-of-court charge for defying a judge's 2011 order to stop his immigration patrols.

Prosecutors said the subpoena was an attempt to divert attention from key issues in the case.

They also said Arpaio hasn't shown any extraordinary circumstances to justify calling Sessions to testify on a matter in which he had no involvement or firsthand knowledge.

Arpaio's trial is scheduled to begin Monday in federal court.

The former sheriff has acknowledged prolonging the patrols but insists his defiance wasn't intentional. If convicted of the charge, the 85-year-old could be sentenced to up to six months in jail.

Arpaio's attorneys say they want to call Sessions to testify so he can illustrate a contradiction between current federal immigration policy and the 2011 court order that their client is charged with violating.

The 2011 order was issued in a racial profiling case and forbid sheriff's deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally.

The judge presiding over the profiling case concluded that Arpaio's officers continued to detain such immigrants over a 17-month period and turned them over to federal immigration authorities.

Arpaio's lawyers have said the prohibition on detaining immigrants who hadn't been suspected of committing state crimes conflicts with a federal policy backed by Sessions that calls for all adult immigrants who are caught near the border to be apprehended, rather than being released.

Arpaio, who made immigration enforcement a fixture in his stump speeches, has tried unsuccessfully to bar prosecutors from mentioning comments he made about immigration while on the campaign trail.

The judge in the profiling case has said Arpaio ignored the order because he believed his immigration enforcement efforts would help his 2012 campaign.