Over the next few months, we will be selecting a new Maricopa County attorney. The job entails far more than just prosecuting people who are suspected of committing crimes.
The job description of the county attorney according to the Arizona Revised Statutes is almost 700 words long. The Maricopa County attorney is the lawyer for the county who provides services to 5 million residents, 27 communities, 70 county departments with a budget totaling $4.5 billion. The county attorney has 1,000 employees, including some 400 lawyers.
We need to look seriously at who wants to run the County Attorney’s Office, who can represent county government, prosecute crimes honestly and efficiently and fix an office that’s been struggling since now disbarred County Attorney Andrew Thomas was elected in 2004.
Thomas, a novice lawyer, talked tough and climbed into political bed with then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio to profile and target immigrants they believed were in Maricopa County without proper documents. They also targeted elected official considered to be political enemies, including county supervisors and sitting Superior Court judges.
Thomas was finally attorney-andrew-thomas-disbarred-ethics-violations” data-ylk=”slk:disbarred for ethical violations and abusing the office” class=”link “>disbarred for ethical violations and abusing the office, but only after he had resigned to run for state attorney general. Arpaio was found in contempt by a federal judge and lost his reelection bid. Their conduct caused in multiple lawsuits that cost the county millions and the sheriff’s office under the strict supervision of the federal courts.
Thomas was followed by Bill Montgomery, another tough talker with limited legal experience who reportedly montgomery-spent-400-k-building-arsenal-county-attorneys-office/3657590001/” data-ylk=”slk:spent $400,000 arming his own police force” class=”link “>spent $400,000 arming his own police force within the County Attorney’s Office. Montgomery was also cozy with Arpaio who endorsed Montgomery after Thomas resigned.
Montgomery also became the focus of unwanted public attention in 2020 after it came out that one of his favorite prosecutors had a long history of sexual harassment. Montgomery issued the lawyer a they wrote reprimand despite multiple complaints. The prosecutor was eventually disbarred for his past conduct and fired by Montgomery’s successor.
Montgomery left halfway into his second term to become a judge in 2019.
Montgomery was replaced by Allister Adel. And just like Thomas and Montgomery, she too wasn’t long on prosecutorial experience.
Adel left office midway in her elected term following a series of internal and external problems that led five members of her executive leadership team to request that she resign for not satisfying her professional and ethical responsibilities. She eventually stepped down after serious questions were raised about her lack of oversight of a major police investigation that, in dismissal of cases and a slew of lawsuits against the county.
While the county attorney needs to work with law enforcement, they have to maintain a separate and distinct position that involves objective oversight, and does not become an agent of the police.
In the Democratic primary the single choice is Julie Gunnigle, a progressive crusader for “criminal justice reform” in the same vein as counterparts in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
On the Republican side is Gina Godbehere, a former county prosecutor who rose to become bureau chief and resigned to become the city prosecutor in Goodyear. Godbehere applied to replace Adel when she resigned and was passed over by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Godbehere’s sophomoric tweeted, “I am disappointed in the selection of the status quo candidate by the Maricopa County Bd of Supervisors” in April after not being selected to serve as acting county attorney, was disappointing.
The other Republican is the person who the Supervisors to appoint as acting county attorney, Rachel Mitchell. A career prosecutor, Mitchell has served at all levels in the office and now has been tapped by county supervisors to temporarily lead the office not was but twice. She also served as acting county attorney following Montgomery’s departure for the state Supreme Court.
Mitchell was one of the five lawyers who demanded Adel resign. As interim county attorney, Mitchell has initiated sweeping changes to correct the deficiencies that have piled up over the years.
The county attorney sets the tone for honest law enforcement and successful prosecutions so that justice is served and victims’ rights are protected.
Electing a new, effective and stable Maricopa County attorney is a big deal. We’ve elected too many dudes in the past.
Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective. Email him at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Electing Maricopa County attorneys is a big deal. Some have been dudes
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