A federal judge ruled Thursday that President Donald Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio does not erase his conviction for criminal contempt of court, rejecting arguments from Arpaio and the Department of Justice to vacate all the rulings in his criminal case.
“The Court found Defendant guilty of criminal contempt. The President issued the pardon. Defendant accepted. The pardon undoubtedly spared Defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed. It did not, however, ‘revise the historical facts’ of this case,” Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton wrote in a four-page opinion.
Arpaio immediately filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit on Thursday night.
Bolton’s ruling is consistent with guidance on the Department of Justice website that “a pardoned offense would not be removed from your criminal record.” Notwithstanding that language, the Justice Department previously agreed with Arpaio’s lawyers that his conviction should be erased. It’s not yet clear whether the federal government will agree with Arpaio on appeal as well.
The longtime Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff was convicted of contempt in July due to his failure to comply with a court order barring him from violating the constitutional rights of county residents. Although presidential pardons are typically issued after a convict has served at least a portion of his legal punishment, Arpaio had not yet been sentenced when Trump pardoned him in August. As The Intercept previously reported, the unprecedented move led to a series of constitutional challenges.
Still, those who oppose the pardon on legal grounds said that Bolton’s most recent decision is important.
“The finding of guilt is going to stand, and the nation deserves for it to stand after all the constitutional violations that Arpaio has committed,” said David Shapiro, a lawyer at Northwestern University’s Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
The MacArthur Justice Center is one of several groups that on Monday filed an amicus brief asking Bolton to appoint a private attorney to prosecute an appeal in the case.
The role of the private attorney would be to investigate and decide whether to appeal Bolton’s decisions – including her Oct. 4 ruling upholding the pardon. As The Intercept previously reported, the amici argue that the federal rules of criminal procedure mandate the appointment of a private attorney since the Justice Department has taken Arpaio’s side in this case, thereby choosing not to prosecute the contempt charge.
“A criminal case is not final until it is resolved by direct appeal,” the amici wrote, arguing that valid grounds for appeal exist in the case at hand. “Now that this court has dismissed the contempt charge, failure to appoint a private attorney could allow the President and his Justice Department to effectively block appellate consideration of a constitutional issue of critical importance to the Judicial Branch as a whole.”
Bolton has not yet ruled on their request, but in theory, a private attorney could ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the pardon.