Joe Arpaio's lawyer just quit for 'ethical' reasons weeks before sheriff's criminal contempt trial
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona speaking at the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit in Phoenix, Arizona (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Mere weeks prior to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's trial in which he's charged with criminal contempt, his lead defense attorney has quit.

AZCentral reports that Mel McDonald filed a brief with the court that a request is being made in "good cause" and under ethical rules, his resignation from the case is "mandatory."

The notorious sheriff could earn six months in jail for refusing to follow a judge's order in a case Arpaio lost three years ago. Arpaio was accused of resisting a 2011 court order to cease his immigration patrols in Phoenix. At the time, he swore he didn't violate the order intentionally, but the court was able to prove he did.

Arpaio's contempt violation ultimately concluded with a judge creating a taxpayer-funded account that compensates Latinos illegally detained by Arpaio when he was violating the order. So far, $1 million has been set aside for the account.

Arpaio's team has spent weeks begging for more time and requesting delays. McDonald has also made motions to have Arpaio's campaign statements and victim testimony barred from the trial. Another motion claimed Arpaio was "coerced" into confessing to civil contempt and only agreed to it because he thought it would prevent him from criminal charges.

In that case, Arpaio was represented not by McDonald but by another attorney from the same firm.

Arpaio is expected to spend as much as $72 million in legal fees paid for by taxpayer dollars. He advised President Donald Trump on immigration issues during the 2016 campaign, though it is unclear if Trump would pardon Arpaio if convicted.