A group supporting metropolitan Phoenix's sheriff filed a lawsuit Thursday aimed at halting an effort to recall the lawman from office.
Citizens To Protect Fair Election Results alleges in its lawsuit that recall organizers have violated the equal protection and due process rights of voters who re-elected Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio last year.
The pro-Arpaio group says the sheriff won re-election fair and square and the recall effort is an unconstitutional attempt to harass him.
Recall organizers say Arpaio should be recalled, in part, because his office failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases and has racially profiled people in its trademark immigration patrols.
The pro-Arpaio group argues in its lawsuit that the Arizona Constitution prohibits the circulation of recall petitions against an official until he or she has held office for six months. Recall organizers contend a state law specifies that the six-month period doesn't apply to incumbents.
"If they claim that that six-month provision does not apply because Sheriff Joe was re-elected, that flies in the face of the Arizona Constitution," said Larry Klayman, a lawyer representing Arpaio supporters.
Recall leader William James Fisher, who hadn't yet had a chance to read the lawsuit, predicted that the pro-Arpaio group will lose in court and said his group welcomes the chance to show that the state law is right on point. "There's no other way to interpret that," Fisher said.
Recall organizers say they have gathered nearly 150,000 of the more than 335,000 valid petition signatures required by May 30 to prompt a recall election.
Arpaio faced his second-tightest election in November, beating the closest candidate by 6 percentage points.
In 2011, immigrant rights advocates succeeded in their effort to oust then-Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, an Arpaio ally who was the driving force behind the state's contentious 2010 immigration law.
Recall organizers say they are facing difficulties in raising money and are relying more on volunteers rather than paid professionals to gather signatures from voters in their bid to force a recall election.
Chad Willems, Arpaio's campaign manager, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Arpaio's office has said the sheriff isn't affiliated with Citizens To Protect Fair Election Results.