State Senate to Hold Hearing on Issue of Felony Warrants

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Whether Sheriff Joe Arpaio is using his resources correctly when it comes to serving felony warrants will be among issues discussed at a legislative hearing on Monday.

The State Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear testimony starting at 1:30 p.m. on the subject of felony warrants -- a topic well known to Arpaio observers.

The hearing promises to be interesting, with planned appearances by law enforcement officials and members of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank that last year published a report critical of Arpaio and his handling of more than 40,000 unserved felony warrants in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The sheriff's office isn't legally required to serve the warrants. But critics -- including the Goldwater Institute -- argue that taxpayer money spent by Arpaio on rounding up landscapers would be better used to round up fugitive felons.

The timing of the hearing made us wonder whether it would be a microcosm of the planned hearings of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and Justice Department about Arpaio's tactics against illegal immigrants. Is the Republican-dominated state legislature joining the federal Arpaio-bashing bandwagon?

Nope, says State Senator Jon Paton (above), who chairs the senate committee holding Monday's hearing. It won't be a "witch hunt," he says, but he does expect vigorous debate. By the end, Paton's hoping he hears good ideas on the best ways for law enforcement officers statewide to serve warrants.

"We're not out to go after anybody," Paton says, reminding New Times he's from Pima County and doesn't have a stake in the local squabble over warrants.

However, Arpaio is sensitive to both the Goldwater Institute and the subject of warrants. Although Arpaio agreed to send a delegation to the hearing, he probably isn't happy that so much attention is being given to the critical Goldwater report.

When the report was first published, Arpaio called it "another irritation."

Warrants versus immigrants was also the issue when then-Governor Janet Napolitano took away hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding from the sheriff's office and used it to create a new Arizona Department of Public Safety task force to serve warrants.

Talking about warrants now, especially alongside the Goldwater Institute, doesn't seem like it would benefit Arpaio in any way -- probably just the opposite.

Here's how the think-tank describes what it will be doing:

Goldwater Institute Litigation Director Clint Bolick, who authored the report, will testify at the hearing along with numerous law enforcement officials, and explain how ambiguities in jurisdiction between the Maricopa County Sherriff's Office and city police have opened a loophole which not only allows untold hundreds of warrants to remain in limbo while felons continue to roam free; but that also it makes it impossible to measure the effectiveness of law enforcement.

Sounds like Arpaio -- or his policies, anyway -- will be in the hot seat, no?

Yet the senate judiciary committee is also staffed by Senator Russell Pearce, a close ally of Arpaio's and former Maricopa deputy who isn't likely to let the dogpile grow too large. 

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