Today, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved the salary for the new second-in-command at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Rachel Mitchell. As Phoenix New Times reported earlier this month, Bill Montgomery's chief deputy has changed three times so far this year following a series of behind-the-scenes shakeups at the biggest county attorney's office in the state.
When it came time for the board to approve Mitchell's proposed $167,211 salary, Steve Gallardo was the only supervisor who voiced concerns over the timing of Mitchell's appointment, since Governor Doug Ducey will soon decide whether to appoint Montgomery to the state's highest court.
"Just the timing of everything that's going on right now, the possible move, I still don't understand the reasons for having this type of switch at this point," Gallardo said. "I would feel better if we would just hold off on it and entertain this idea later, this possible restructuring within the office."
None of the four other supervisors said anything about the unusual timing of the appointment or the anonymous letter they received just two weeks earlier alleging misconduct at Montgomery's office. Supervisor Jack Sellers motioned to approve Mitchell's salary, Supervisor Steve Chucri seconded, and Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, was the only nay vote.
A series of personnel changes behind closed doors at the county attorney's office led to Mitchell's appointment last month. Montgomery's former chief deputy, Mark Faull, has been out on medical leave, leading the deputy chief of MCAO's criminal group, Michael McVey, to fill in as acting chief deputy. But on July 29, all five members of the Board of Supervisors received an anonymous letter accusing McVey of being in an inappropriate relationship with another MCAO employee. (The relationship was not actually inappropriate by MCAO policy, since McVey had disclosed it back in January, per that policy.) Two days later, on July 31, Rachel Mitchell took over as chief deputy.
Mitchell is most well-known for her role in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings last year, but she's been in charge of the Special Victims Division for over a decade. Mitchell has faced criticism in the past for questioning the credibility of a quadriplegic woman who said her husband had abused her. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office chose not to prosecute the case. In 2011, Mitchell made a plea deal with a Jehovah's Witness who admitted he had sexually abused a child on multiple occasions. The man spent six months in jail as part of Mitchell's deal. After the victim learned about his light sentence, he shot himself in the head.
Mitchell was thrust into the national spotlight in September 2018, when she was picked to question Christine Blasey Ford and other witnesses who were testifying against Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee over allegations that he'd sexually assaulted Ford. Mitchell, a veteran of MCAO's sex-crimes division, later told the committee in a memo that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against Kavanaugh based on the evidence she heard. But her appointment as Ford's interrogator brought criticism. A Politico article described her performance as a "blunder," and quoted an anonymous Trump administration official saying it was a "disaster." Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate 50-48.
On July 26, Bill Montgomery made the shortlist of finalists for a seat on the state Supreme Court. Within 60 days of receiving the list of finalists, Ducey must pick one to appoint to the state's highest court.
If Montgomery does get the Supreme Court appointment, he would need to tender his resignation as county attorney. The Board of Supervisors would then find Montgomery's replacement, reviewing applicants for Montgomery's position and selecting one to appoint as interim county attorney until an election can be held to find an official replacement.
Montgomery's candidacy has been hotly contested by civil rights groups who say the county attorney's record of refusing to provide legal assistance to same-sex couples, blocking criminal justice reform, and hiring a controversial former FBI agent to conduct "Muslim threat" training all show he is too biased to be a good fit for the job. Montgomery also has the least relevant experience of any of the seven finalists for the Supreme Court seat. Montgomery is currently being sued over allegations that his marijuana diversion program is unconstitutional.
In recent months, several lawmakers and advocacy groups signed a letter demanding Montgomery resign for allowing the infamous homicide prosecutor Juan Martinez to engage in a years-long pattern of sexual misconduct with little to no repercussions. As ABC15 recently reported, Martinez's tendency to sexually harass his female coworkers goes back decades.
Should Montgomery get the Supreme Court appointment, as Montgomery's second-in-command, Mitchell may need to take on even more responsibilities not long after jumping from head of the sex crimes division to chief deputy.
Correction: This article previously stated that Rachel Mitchell declined to prosecute the case against a man who had abused his quadriplegic wife. It was actually Doug Schwab, the prosecutor assigned to the case, who declined to prosecute.
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