Prosecutors

3 Republican County Attorney Candidates to Interview for Interim Position

Rachel Mitchell at the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in Washington.
Rachel Mitchell at the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in Washington. Erin Schaff/Getty Images
Three Republican candidates vying to become Maricopa County Attorney will interview with the county to fill the job temporarily in the months before the election, the county Board of Supervisors announced Friday.

The top prosecutor's office in Maricopa County has been vacant since March 25, when former county attorney Allister Adel resigned amid mounting scandals. Currently, Chief Deputy Ken Vick is running the office — despite the fact that, like Adel, he's facing a state bar investigation over his role in the bogus "ACAB gang" protest cases.

Voters will decide on the next county attorney in November. But before then, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors plans to appoint an interim county attorney — and appears to be choosing from the three Republican candidates who are running for the office.

Those candidates are longtime MCAO prosecutors Rachel Mitchell and Gina Godbehere, as well as Anni Foster, Governor Doug Ducey's general counsel. One will face off against Julie Gunnigle, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Adel in the 2020 county attorney's race.

State law requires that any interim attorney who is appointed be part of the same political party as the predecessor. In this case, because Adel was a Republican, her appointed successor must be also.

The August primary election for the county attorney's seat is fast approaching — and if one of the Republican candidates is appointed to the office, it likely will give them a leg up in the race.

"A well-run county attorney’s office is a critical piece of a fair and efficient criminal justice system. This process will allow us to get to know the candidates better and determine if one of them is the right fit to serve in this position until voters choose a new county attorney in November," Board Chairman Bill Gates said in a Friday statement.

In 2019, when former county attorney Bill Montgomery left the office for an Arizona Supreme Court appointment, Mitchell and Godbehere vied to be appointed as his interim replacement. It was something of a surprise when the board picked Adel over Mitchell, who at that time was second-in-command at MCAO.

Adel was appointed in October 2019, a little over a year before the 2020 general election for county attorney, which she won.

In 2010, Rick Romley was appointed to replace former county attorney Andrew Thomas by the board after agreeing he would run for the seat that November. Ultimately, he lost to Montgomery.

Gunnigle told Phoenix New Times on Friday she was disappointed to see that the Board of Supervisors seemed to be planning to appoint a candidate to the position.

"This is so troubling," she said. "Fixing that office, as highly dysfunctional as it is, is a full-time job. The Board of Supervisors is making a mistake selecting someone who is simultaneously running for office."

Gunnigle added that it felt like a "replay" of 2019. "The Board of Supervisors is putting their thumb on a contested primary," she said.

A spokesperson for the Board of Supervisors did not comment on Gunnigle's views, but said the three Republican candidates were the only ones who were invited to apply for the interim job.

The candidates will have to fill out a short questionnaire for the board, which asks for their "top priorities" for the office and how they plan to address current staffing shortages.

It also asks about the 2020 presidential election. A candidate for county attorney, the board wrote, should be "familiar with the allegations and evidence," given that the candidate is running to become the legal representative for the board.

"Based on your review of the allegations of fraud and the information made publicly available, did the Board of Supervisors err in certifying the 2020 election results?" the questionnaire asks.

As the board likely knows, two of the three Republican candidates in the race have been asked this question before — and struggled to answer.

Godbehere, in an interview with Arizona's Family, claimed she had not reviewed enough of the evidence to answer. "It's not proper to sit there when I haven't read all the details and the facts to give an opinion one way or another," she said.

Meanwhile, Foster would say only: "I think it's been resolved as to who the president is" when asked about the results of the election.

Now, the candidates will be forced to further expand on those views.

"We expect the person we appoint to be our advocate, without equivocation, and we expect them to put their oath of office and a commitment to the facts above political expediency," supervisor Tom Galvin wrote Friday. 
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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