PHOENIX (AP) — Officials voted Wednesday to pay $4.4 million in legal fees to attorneys who won a racial profiling case against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, marking yet another expense in a case that’s projected to cost taxpayers $72 million by next summer.
The attorneys have attributed most of their fees to Arpaio’s contempt-of-court violations for ignoring court orders in the profiling case, including a decision to prolong his immigration patrols months after he was ordered to stop them.
County officials bemoaned having to pay the attorney fees, but they said the law required them to do so.
“What could we have done with the money, other than pay it to attorneys?” Supervisor Steve Gallardo asked rhetorically moments before the unanimous vote.
The racial profiling lawsuit that Arpaio lost more than three years ago morphed into a contempt case after the judge accused Arpaio and his aides of violating court orders.
Arpaio, who is seeking a seventh term in November, has since been found in civil contempt, and federal prosecutors are considering whether to bring a criminal contempt case that could expose him to jail time.
So far, the county has been on the hook for $48.2 million in the case and will face additional costs in the future because of costly court-ordered punishments handed down in Arpaio’s contempt case.
The future costs include $9.8 million for a court-ordered overhaul of the sheriff’s internal affairs operations, which the case’s judge found had been manipulated to shield sheriff’s officials from accountability.
Another new cost was $1 million for setting up a county-funded system for compensating Latinos who were illegally detained when Arpaio ignored the immigration patrol order.
The sheriff’s office had no immediate comment on Wednesday’s decision. The agency had earlier blamed the lawyers pushing the profiling case for the skyrocketing legal costs, saying they refused to settle the contempt case and instead drove up taxpayer tab by letting the contempt hearings drag on.
The opposing attorneys say they would have never incurred those costs if Arpaio had followed the judge’s orders.
The vote Wednesday marked the second time in two years that Arpaio’s legal foes in the case have sought fees. Two years ago, the attorneys were awarded nearly $4.5 million for the costs of bringing the case to trial. Federal law lets the winners of civil rights cases seek reimbursement for legal costs.
Arpaio, who earns $100,000 annually as sheriff and owns commercial real estate worth more than $2 million, hasn’t had to pay for legal bills directly tied to his official duties in any lawsuits filed against him in his nearly 23 years as sheriff.
The lawyers who won the profiling case asked the judge to require Arpaio to put $300,000 of his own money into the fund to compensate Latinos who were illegally detained in violation of the immigration-patrol order. But the judge rejected the request, questioning whether there was legal authority to impose such penalties and saying doing so would have only a symbolic benefit.
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