Maricopa County Supervisors accept Allister Adel’s resignation

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 12:12 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 21, 2022 at 4:32 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Allister Adel announced Monday afternoon that she will be resigning from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Her announcement comes after her office dropped around 180 misdemeanor criminal cases because charges weren’t filed on time. Hours later, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors accepted Adel’s resignation and voted to hold a special election to fill the office. The board will appoint a new county attorney until the election. “Today, I announce my decision to resign as the Maricopa County Attorney effective Friday, March 25, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. Voters supported me in November 2020 as the first woman elected to be Maricopa County Attorney, and it is an honor I will always cherish.”

“I am proud of the many accomplishments of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office during my tenure,” Adel wrote in a statement that did not give a reason for her resignation. Adel was appointed to the post in 2019 and won the race the following year. Adel’s time as the Maricopa County Attorney has been embroiled in controversy.

Gang charges investigation

In August 2021, then-Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher released results on an independent investigation into the arrests of protesters who attended an October 2020 rally in Phoenix. Those protesters were initially booked for rioting and other crimes. A grand jury later indicted them on more serious charges of assisting with a criminal street gang.

Investigators found that charging the protesters as a gang was made “collaboratively between some personnel at the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.” It also found that those people who were involved “consciously avoided” including the Phoenix PD’s Gang Enforcement Unit (GEU) in an attempt to “sideline those deemed likely to object to charging the protestors as members of a criminal street gang.”

Adel was in office during this time. However, she suffered a brain injury on Nov. 3, 2020. She was hospitalized for several months and was back to work full-time by February 2021. After Zuercher’s report was released, Adel issued statements saying her prosecutors failed to vet the case properly. One of those prosecutors, April Sponsel, filed a defamation lawsuit claiming that Adel was aware of the gang charges. Adel has denied those claims.

Top deputies ask Adel to resign

In February, top deputies in Adel’s office asked her to resign in a three-page letter that raised questions about her sobriety, long absences from work, and her judgment. The letter was sent to the State Bar of Arizona and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors as a “first step” in what could potentially lead to further actions. “(We) believe the content of this letter may require further investigation that we are not equipped to conduct,” the letter stated. Adel responded to the letter saying she had no plans of resigning.

Adel’s office drops 180 criminal cases because of mistakes

On March 15, Gov. Doug Ducey criticized Adel for dropping 180 criminal cases, saying she needs to stop pointing fingers at staff for dropping the ball. “I think leaders need to take accountability for their actions and not blame the people on their team,” Ducey told reporters.

Days later, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sent a letter to Adel demanding answers for dropping those criminal cases. “I am concerned that justice will not be secured for crime victims,” he wrote. “Additionally, the failure to pursue these charges has nullified the hard work of law enforcement and peace officers working these cases.” He asked for a report from Adel by March 31 that included information on the structure of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and who is responsible for making sure cases are filed in a timely manner, a list of the cases that were not timely filed, background information on each case, a “thorough explanation” of why those cases were not filed, and details on what’s being done to fix the issue going forward.

Adel resigns, releases statement

“I want to thank the employees of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. I value and respect the work and dedication you give to this office. Few people genuinely realize or appreciate how hard this work is or how committed you are to serving the greater good, but I do. Thank you to family, friends, colleagues, and voters who have offered their support and encouragement to me, either publicly or privately. Expressing my gratitude will never be sufficient, but please know that you have been heard and that I am thankful.”

Gov. Ducey also released a statement saying he respected Adel’s “difficult, brave and very personal decision.” “I respect her choice and wish her and her family the best. I want to thank her for her service to the people of Maricopa County,” he added.

“I believe Allister’s resignation represents what is best for her, her family, the County’s Attorney Office, and the criminal justice system,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said in a statement.

Who will replace Adel?

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office confirms Democrat Julie Gunnigle, who narrowly lost to Adel in 2020, has started the paperwork to run for Maricopa County Attorney. By Tuesday night, Gunnigle already had her petition online.

Republican Anni L. Foster has also begun the process. She serves as the general counsel to Gov. Doug Ducey has been with his office since 2015. The governor’s office says prior to that she worked for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Foster also tweeted a thread about her intentions on Monday.

“I have been doing this for over 30 years and have never seen a situation at a high-level office like this,” said Doug Cole, the chief operating officer with High Ground Public Affairs. He calls these circumstances and the tight deadline for candidates to get signatures a “truly new challenge.”

“As a political consultant, we’d counsel a political candidate to get twice the amount,” Cole said. “So that would be roughly 9,000 signatures in 14 days.”

After the April signature deadline, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer says there would be a challenge period then the option to be a write-in candidate. Candidates for that would not need signatures, but would need to file paperwork by June 23rd to be qualified.

“For anyone not familiar with the signature gathering process this is actually a herculean lift for somebody to accomplish over two weeks,” Richer said. “Candidates will often spend over a year gathering this number of signatures and if somebody is going to pay to collect these signatures the cost is going to be exorbitant.”

Those hoping to be the county’s next top prosecutor must submit signatures to the county by April 4 at 5 p.m. Candidates also have to file a statement of interest before gathering signatures. Here’s a look at the minimum number of signatures candidates have to get based on the political party:

  • Republican: 4,528
  • Democrat: 4,289
  • Libertarian: 2,319

If you can’t see the timeline graphic, click/tap here.

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