Maricopa County's Rachel Mitchell to Question Kavanaugh Accuser: What We Know

Rachel Mitchell
Rachel Mitchell

Senate Republicans chose a longtime Maricopa County sex crimes prosecutor to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor accusing him of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school.

Rachel Mitchell will speak on behalf of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel of 11 white men, during the highly anticipated Thursday hearing.

The move goes against the wishes of Ford, who wanted the senators to question her themselves. Democrats criticized the decision as out of step with what’s been done in the past.

It's a strange assignment for Mitchell, who has won awards for her career pursuing justice for victims of sex crimes. As a representative for the Judiciary Committee, part of her task will be interrogating Ford to find holes in her accusations.

Here’s what we know about her so far, according to news reports and interviews:

Mitchell is experienced and well-respected among local attorneys:

Mitchell has been a prosecutor since 1993, according to a statement from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. She has spent 12 years running the sex crimes bureau, which handles cases involving child molestation, adult sex abuse, and other cases.

Rhonda Neff, a defense attorney who has been practicing in Maricopa County for seven years, told Phoenix New Times Mitchell is well-liked by her colleagues in the county attorney’s office and defense attorneys.

"She is known as a very good trial attorney and a very direct trial attorney,” Neff said. "I will assume her questions will be very direct and very understandable. I don’t think she’ll beat around the bush.”

County attorney Bill Montgomery praised Mitchell in a statement. "The American people can be confident that Rachel Mitchell’s experience as a conscientious prosecutor, trained to seek justice, protect victims, and pursue truth will assist the Senate Judiciary Committee in performing its important task,” Montgomery said.

She has successfully prosecuted several high-profile sex crime cases:

Mitchell’s most well-known case was against Reverend Paul LeBrun, a Catholic priest who was sentenced in 2005 to more than 100 years in prison for abusing young boys decades earlier.

She won at trial or secured guilty pleas form several other priests accused of sex crimes, as well as an ex-camp counselor and a Mesa police officer.

One victim’s family wasn’t happy with Mitchell’s work:

In 2011, she helped negotiate a plea deal for a former Jehovah’s Witness elder who admitted to sexually abusing a teenage boy several times in the 1980s.

David Nelson got six months in jail, as well as probation and mandatory sex offender registration, for the crimes, which included performing oral sex on the teenager. He pleaded guilty to two reduced charges related to the crime, down from six felonies.

After Nelson’s plea deal, the victim attempted suicide twice. The victim’s wife criticized the deal.

Mitchell told New Times one of the incidents of sex abuse would be difficult to prove in court because the victim could not narrow down a specific date for when it occurred.

Tarring her with Arpaio is a stretch:

When Mitchell's name was revealed, several talking heads were quick to make the connection between Maricopa County and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Former Hillary Clinton advisor Philippe Reines:
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin:
In fact, as 12 News anchor Brahm Resnik pointed out, Mitchell did not work for Arpaio. While the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office submits cases to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, the two are separate agencies.

The Washington Post reported that, after Joe Arpaio's sheriff's office came under scrutiny for failing to investigate hundreds of sex crimes, Mitchell was on the team that helped identify cases that could still be prosecuted.