New county attorney Adel signals openness to justice reform

By: - October 17, 2019 2:47 pm

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel at a press conference Oct. 17, 2019. Photo by Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror

Newly appointed Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said she’s open to taking steps on criminal justice reform, both by making changes within her office and by pushing for reforms at the legislature.

“I think that this is not strictly a legislative solution. This is looking internally at how we process cases. It’s working with our stakeholders in the community. And it’s a more holistic approach that I’d like to take,” Adel told reporters on Thursday during her first press conference as county attorney.

Adel said she has not yet determined what steps she might take in that direction. She said she’ll work with stakeholders on reform issues.

In her inaugural press conference, Adel announced her transition team. That team includes one of the legislature’s most prominent voices for criminal justice reform, Rep. Walt Blackman, a Snowflake Republican who sponsored several unsuccessful reform proposals during the 2019 legislative session and is chairing a committee that will craft a sentencing reform proposal for 2020.

“I have developed a relationship with him over recent months where he has engaged me with meaningful, substantive discussions on taking steps toward criminal justice reform. So he is bringing that expertise to the table for our transition team,” Adel said.

Blackman endorsed Adel during the appointment process for a new county attorney, in which she was one of eight candidates. 

If Adel does embrace criminal justice reform, that would be a significant departure from her predecessor, Bill Montgomery, who Gov. Doug Ducey appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court in September. Montgomery was known for a hardline approach to prosecution and actively lobbied against reform proposals at the legislature.

Adel said she’ll do things differently than Montgomery in a number of areas. For example, she said she’ll run a “less political office” than Montgomery, whom critics decried as excessively partisan. And she plans to bring in a lean process improvement team to reduce the backlog of public records requests at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, saying she’s “committed to transparency.”

“I think that you’ll find that I am different than my predecessor, and I think that we will have a wonderful relationship moving forward and you’ll get to know me a little bit better and how I am differentiating myself,” Adel told reporters.

As county attorney, Adel said her priorities will be to protect victims’ rights and hold criminals accountable while being “just and reasonable.”

“Prosecutors wield incredible power, and as such there is great responsibility to be fair and ethical. It is my strong belief that a prosecutor’s main duty is always to seek justice,” she said.

Adel said she’s instructed her transition team to primarily focus on two things: developing “high-level strategic priorities” for operations at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and helping establish citizen advisory boards. She didn’t say what those boards would focus on. 

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Adel to replace Montgomery on Oct. 3. Adel is a former deputy county attorney and previously worked for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, Arizona Department of Transportation and Maricopa County Bar Association. Prior to her appointment, she served as a legal consultant for nonprofit organizations and small businesses. 

Adel’s full transition team consists of:

  • State Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake
  • Candice Copple, chief of staff to Mesa Mayor John Giles
  • Angela Creedon, associate vice president of university affairs at Arizona State University
  • Artie Eaves, senior owner and director at Sanders and Parks
  • Sintra Hoffman, president and CEO of WestMarc
  • Brett Hunt, executive director at Arizona State University’s Public Service Academy
  • Jennifer Liewer, executive director of community relations at Tempe Union High School District
  • Andrew Pacheco, partner at Ryan Rapp and Underwood
  • John Phelps, retired CEO of the State Bar of Arizona
  • David Rodriguez, chief deputy county attorney at the Pinal County Attorney’s Office
  • Benjamin Taylor, partner at Taylor and Gomez
  • Tom Van Dorn, commander at the Phoenix Police Department
  • Maria Verdin, retired judge and policy advisor at Marsy’s Law

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”