by Yvonne Wingett and Michael Kiefer – Feb. 7, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will hold a public meeting at 2 p.m. Monday to talk about the possible legal and financial fallout of segregation in the jails by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

In a letter sent Friday, Supervisor Max Wilson, chairman of the board, asked County Attorney Andrew Thomas to attend the meeting.

Wilson was reacting to statements Thomas made to the press about Arpaio’s new policy of separating convicted inmates who are in the country illegally from the general population. Arpaio said the policy is efficient; Thomas said it might be unconstitutional.

“If this is the case, issues of potential liability and the related financial risk to Maricopa County are clearly implicated,” Wilson wrote in his letter. “I request that you personally appear at a special meeting . . . to advise the board about the legal implications and potential financial risk to the county resulting from the Sheriff’s actions.”

A spokesman for Thomas’ office called the meeting a publicity stunt.

“He’s asking for public legal ,” Barnett Lotstein said.

Lotstein said Thomas had not yet decided whether he or someone from his office would attend the meeting.

Arpaio declined comment on the meeting but issued a statement calling Thomas a “good partner in the fight to reduce illegal immigration.”

“However, at times he and I will have to agree and disagree,” Arpaio said in the statement.

On Tuesday, Arpaio announced that he would segregate the illegal immigrants as a cost-cutting measure, saying it would make it easier to handle visits from consular officials and transport inmates after they serve their time.

On Wednesday, Arpaio marched 220 inmates from Durango Jail to Tent City.

Thomas said he disagreed with the measure on principle but has no statutory authority over Arpaio, who also is his closest political ally.

He cannot sue Arpaio over the issue because he does not have standing, Thomas said; a lawsuit would have to be filed by someone directly affected by the policy, such as an inmate.

On Thursday, Thomas cited a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rejected an unwritten policy of segregating prisoners by race – ostensibly to prevent gang battles – by the California Department of Corrections.

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