- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PHOENIX (AP) — The self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” will appear in court Tuesday to testify about  failed corruption investigations against three public officials who claim the cases were trumped up.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will testify at an ally’s attorney discipline hearing at a time when a federal grand jury is investigating abuse-of-power allegations against him and the U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation of his immigration patrols.

The politically powerful sheriff, who is being courted by four Republican presidential hopefuls for his endorsement, will testify at former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas‘ attorney discipline hearing.

Sheriff Arpaio wouldn’t face any punishment if Mr. Thomas is found to have violated ethical rules, but the hearing could provide the first official comment from the state’s legal establishment on whether the investigations were valid.

Lawyers pressing the discipline case said that the officials, judges and lawyers who crossed Sheriff Arpaio and Mr. Thomas in political disputes often were targeted for investigations and, in some cases, were criminally charged.

Sheriff Arpaio and Mr. Thomas contend they were trying to root out corruption in county government, while county officials say the investigations were baseless.

County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was accused of voting on contracts involving a group that had given her loans and never filing conflict-of-interest statements. County Supervisor Don Stapley was accused of getting mortgage loans under fraudulent pretenses. And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe was charged with hindering prosecution, obstruction of justice and bribery.

All three cases were dismissed after a judge ruled that Mr. Thomas prosecuted one of the three officials for political gain and had a conflict of interest in pressing the case.

If an ethics panel finds that Mr. Thomas violated professional rules of conduct, he could face a wide range of punishments, including an informal reprimand, censure, suspension or disbarment.

Last week, David Hendershott, the former No. 2 official in Sheriff Arpaio’s office, testified that some of the allegations brought against the judge weren’t in fact crimes, though Mr. Hendershott believed that other allegations against Judge Donahoe were criminal violations.

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