Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel Resigns

Allister Adel speaks after she was unanimously approved as Maricopa County Attorney by the Board of Supervisors in 2019.
Allister Adel speaks after she was unanimously approved as Maricopa County Attorney by the Board of Supervisors in 2019. Via YouTube
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel will quit, after mounting pressure in recent months and questions over her ability to serve as the county's top prosecutor.

Adel announced her departure in a press release on Monday. She gave little rationale for her exit, saying simply that her last day would be Friday.

But throughout Adel's tenure, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has been plagued by scandals — from the bogus gang charges that the office leveled against Black Lives Matter protesters, which were ultimately dropped last year, to serious questions about Adel's sobriety.

Adel was appointed as county attorney in October 2019, filling the vacancy left by her predecessor, Bill Montgomery, after he was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Adel won back her seat in November 2020, after a bitter campaign against challenger Julie Gunnigle. Gunnigle had positioned herself as the more progressive candidate, focused on alleviating racial and economic disparities in Maricopa County prosecutions.

But Adel beat Gunnigle by just two percentage points, becoming the first woman elected as county attorney.

The scandals began quickly.

In 2020, MCAO prosecutors drummed up gang charges against 15 people who were arrested while demonstrating downtown. The fictitious "ACAB gang" has since resulted in numerous lawsuits, internal investigations, and widespread condemnation of the office's handling of the case.

And since last fall, Adel has faced scrutiny over her own ability to run the office. In September, she announced that she took a leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol abuse and an eating disorder. Adel waited nearly two weeks to inform the public that she was in rehab, and only did so, it appeared, at the urging of Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone.

In February, the Arizona Republic published a report that detailed concerns inside the office that Adel was out of office for extended periods of time, and had even made a call to an employee while inebriated.

Perhaps the nail in the coffin, though, was the recent revelation that MCAO had failed to charge individuals in 180 criminal cases before the statute of limitations had passed. The office was forced to drop all 180 cases.

Since then, Adel has faced calls from top prosecutors in her office to resign, and was rebuked by Governor Doug Ducey.

Adel also has faced a recall campaign since the fall — "Resign or Be Recalled" — by advocacy group Mass Liberation. That campaign, the group has emphasized, was spurred by civil rights concerns surrounding the office's handling of prosecutions.

As recently as March 8, however, Adel was emphatic that she would not resign, telling host Ted Simons in an interview with local PBS station KAET that she had no plans to leave office.

That changed on Monday.

"I am confident that the important mission of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will continue," Adel wrote in the release. "My dedication and service to my community does not end here."
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk