Maricopa County Attorney candidates propose prosecution reform
PHOENIX – The candidates for the Maricopa County Attorney are focused on reforming the justice system, including lowering the number of offenders who are incarcerated, implementing diversion programs and working to build community relationships.
Incumbent Republican Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said she’s running for election to continue the reform process she’s undertaken in the last year since being appointed, including implementing diversion programs for offenders and minimizing the number of cases being prosecuted to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“Over the last year, we started working hard to implement many, many programs and I’m proud to say many of those have come to fruition to focus on smart justice and recidivism reduction,” Adel said on The Think Tank with Dr. Mike O’Neil on Saturday.
Adel was appointed to the position in 2019 when former County Attorney Bill Montgomery was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Democratic challenger Julie Gunnigle runs a civil practice in the Valley where she practices civil litigation and defends the rights of children’s access to education when they have disabilities.
“We need a Maricopa County attorney who will put people and taxpayers first,” Gunnigle said. “I’m running for county attorney to fix our broken criminal justice system and to ensure equal justice under the law or every Arizonan.”
Gunnigle said that means being tough on violence, instituting reforms that enhance accountability and transparency, and making sure the punishment fits the crime, no matter who is being prosecuted.
Adel’s office was most recently in the spotlight when she declined to file charges against Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper George Cervantes, who was accused of shooting and killing Dion Johnson on May 25 after a struggle on the Loop 101 near Tatum Boulevard in north Phoenix.
Adel said whether somebody is an officer or not, they will be held accountable if they’re found to have committed a crime.
“We prosecute officers all the time. I will tell you, though, in reviewing officer involved shootings, I take this very seriously,” Adel said.
“We have a Critical Incident Review team made up of prosecutors that I expanded immediately when I got there to include non-lawyers on there, and now finally, we’ve got civilians on their from the outside.”
For challenger Gunnigle, she said it’s a day-one priority to set up an independent unit to review use of force cases.
“It is absolutely a conflict of interest to ask prosecutors who work day in and day out with fine folks in uniforms to go ahead and hold them responsible and accountable when there’s an alleged improper use of force,” Gunnigle said.
Both Adel and Gunnigle said they would work to lower the number of people that are in the system. During her time as county attorney, Adel has implemented diversion programs, like allowing those convicted of low-level DUIs to serve part of their sentences at home.
“It’s incumbent upon us as prosecutors to make sure that we’re doing our part for our community because once somebody is institutionalized, they’re a much higher rate to repeat their crimes and recidivate,” Adel said.
She added that her campaign has set a goal to bring Arizona’s incarceration rate down 26% over the course of the next four years.
“I think that’s really important that we’re fiscally responsible and that when we’re charging persons and cases that we’re doing so with all of the interest of justice in mind: Our community that’s been harmed, the person who is allegedly committed the offenses, but also the taxpayers who have to pay for all of this justice,” Gunnigle said.