Republican Allister Adel challenged by three democratic candidates for Maricopa County Attorney

Ivana Venema-Nunez, Reporter

The primary elections on Aug. 4 will include the race for Maricopa County Attorney where incumbent Allister Adel (R) is challenged by Julie Gunnigle (D), Will Knight (D) and Bob McWhirter (D).

The County Attorney is responsible for prosecuting all felonies that occur in Maricopa County and all misdemeanors that occur in unincorporated areas, according to their website.  The office also serves as legal counsel for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and all County departments. 

In order to run for the position,  candidates must be an attorney at law who is licensed and in good standing with the state of Arizona.

Allister Adel assumed office on October 3, 2019, according to her page and is running for re-election in the Republican primary.

According to an article in the Phoenix New Times published on Oct. 7, 2019, Adel was appointed to the position in a unanimous, private, vote by the County Board of Supervisors.  Her predecessor, Bill Montgomery was selected as a state Supreme Court Justice by Governor Doug Ducey and resigned the position. 

Adel talked to reporters and expressed that transparency is of the utmost importance for her office.  She said would address any sexual harassment allegations in the office “appropriately and swiftly, but justly.” and also stated she would work to make sure people have access to public records through the office. 

According to an article written by AZ Central, Adel has made many changes in her eight months, including dismissing high-profile prosecutor Juan Martinez for a pattern of unprofessional behavior. 

In the same article, the other candidates for this position were interviewed as well and all agree that racism does exist in our community.

Adel said she is working to change the culture inside the County Attorney’s Office.

“In order to create meaningful change, it will require all of us to come together and speak out against this injustice,” she said. 

Candidate Julie Gunnigle is a former assistant state’s attorney in Cook County, Illinois. She grew up in Arizona and attended the University of Notre Dame Law School.

One way that Gunnigle wants to stop racism in the criminal justice system is through supporting “raise the age” legislation. She doesn’t support prosecuting minors as adults, according to the AZ Central article. 

“Raise the age is now a leading practice because we know that justice-involved teenagers are more successful and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system again when they are served by the juvenile justice system,” she said. 

Will Knight is a former Maricopa County public defender and worked for Ballard Spahr where he practiced in white-collar crime, election law and commercial finance. He graduated from Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law according to the AZ Central article.

Knight’s plan to make sure race doesn’t become a factor in charging decisions would be by redacting any information that indicates a person’s race and ethnicity that could lead to prejudice and thus creating a “walled-off intake division”.

“Stripping possibly prejudicial details from documents, strictly for those who are making the initial review and recommendation for possible filing of charges, would not be a panacea or ‘silver bullet,’ but it is one powerful tool we can use to push back against systemic inequities,” he said. 

He explained that data has shown this technique has worked in the private industry during hiring process to diminish the effects of implicit bias.

Bob McWhirter is also a former public defender and sits on the advisory board of the Arizona Justice Project. He helped write the Arizona Attorneys FOR criminal Justice bar charges against former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and against Martinez, according to the same AZ Central article.

One of the ways that McWhirter could prevent racism as county attorney would be to keep “clear statistics” about who the office decides to charge, including race and economic data.

“The office needs to keep clear statistics, made available to the public, of who we charge and why. We must identify and track the problem as we treat it,” he wrote.

In response to the recent worldwide protests against police violence, the candidates were asked how will they investigate officers when accused of abusing power.

In January, Adel announced former Tempe police officer Joseph Jaen would not face charges for fatally shooting 14-year-old Antonio Arce who was holding an airsoft gun with an orange tip, according to AZ Central article.

“This situation is absolutely heartbreaking. But on that day, Officer Jaen did not see a 14-year-old boy with a replica,” Adel said in January. “In that moment, he saw a suspect running through a neighborhood with a weapon.”

The decision was reportedly made with guidance from two U.S. Supreme Court rulings and statutes concerning police use of force and a thorough review of the evidence.

Gunnigle and McWhirter both told The Republic that the independent, Critical Incident Review Team led by Tom Van Dorn, should be more transparent to the public and should include community members on the team, according to the AZ Central article.

The current system relies on law enforcement to “investigate and prove cases,” which Gunnigle said was a conflict of interest. 

“The process should be open so the public can see how decisions are made in their name,” McWhirter said. “People from the affected communities need to have a voice in the process.”

Knight said an independent team should consist of certified investigators by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board that consult with a community board.

“When we determine that a police officer has committed a crime, my chief deputies and I will personally handle the prosecution truthfully, fairly, and proportionately to the harm,” Knight told The Republic.