Allister Adel Promises Change, Avoids Specifics at First Press Conference

The new Maricopa County Attorney, Allister Adel, at her first news conference.
The new Maricopa County Attorney, Allister Adel, at her first news conference.
Two weeks into the job, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel already is making some significant changes, with promises of more to come. At an extremely brief press conference on October 17, Adel announced she had put together a transition team to help make strategic changes to the way the office is run.

Adel took only five or six questions at the 10-minute press conference, which was short on specifics, but did say her priorities as the new county attorney are to "protect victims' rights while being fair and responsible" and to "hold criminals accountable." She also said she will focus on developing "strong, collaborative relationships with stakeholders," including courts, law enforcement, and community groups interested in criminal justice reform.

"I think you'll find that I am different from my predecessor," Adel said.

Still, as Phoenix New Times previously reported, Adel has spoken fondly of controversial ex-Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. She's a strong supporter of law enforcement. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) supported her candidacy for county attorney, as did the Fraternal Order of Police. How much she will break away from Montgomery's policies or demand police accountability before her term is up remains to be seen.

Her answers to tough questions from reporters on Thursday didn't necessarily indicate a big break.

For instance, in June, a video of a Phoenix police officer threatening to shoot an unarmed black man in the head in front of his pregnant fiancée and children went viral and caught the nation's attention. The video came closely on the heels of news that nearly 100 Phoenix police officers had shared racist, Islamophobic posts on Facebook. Montgomery was noticeably silent about both news stories.

Asked what she thinks about those two events, Adel demurred and gave a non-answer.

"I'd need to dive further into those issues to answer those questions," Adel said.

Pressed further, Adel said, "I don't have the factual background on the case to give you an answer that is substantive."

Adel promised greater transparency from the office (her predecessor was sued for failing to comply with public records requests in a timely fashion), saying she is bringing in a "process improvement team" to tackle the backlog of public records requests, something she thinks she can get done in the next couple of months.

But when asked if she would reverse Montgomery's policy of refusing to turn over bodycam footage in high-profile police brutality cases, Adel again gave a flimsy response.

click to enlarge Allister Adel - MCAO
Allister Adel
"We're evaluating procedure and policies under the previous administration and want to work collaboratively with law enforcement, but also with the media, to see if we can do anything differently," Adel said.

Since assuming Montgomery's old post, the county's first-ever female top prosecutor has swapped out some key staff and made several new hires, including hiring former Phoenix Police Commander Tom Van Dorn as a first-responder liaison.

Adel's hired a new communications director (Jennifer Liewer from the Tempe Union High School District), and has selected Candice Copple and Marcie Kanefield for her new chief of staff and deputy chief of staff respectively.

As expected, Adel has picked a new second-in-command. Pretrial division chief Ken Vick is the new chief deputy. Meanwhile, Rachel Mitchell, who assumed the chief deputy role in July amid some behind-the-scenes controversy at the county attorney's office, will now be the chief deputy of the criminal group. That's Mike McVey's old job — and Mitchell already took McVey's job earlier this year, when an anonymous letter prompted McVey to be moved from chief deputy to head of the criminal group.

According to a spokesperson for the office, McVey is now a "special assistant" who will serve as court liaison for the office.

Adel has also put together a transition team tasked with "developing high-level strategic priorities for the operations" of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, and "identifying an infrastructure to implement a citizens advisory board."

The transition team includes:

Art Eaves, senior owner and director of lawyer firm Sanders and Parks
Andrew Pacheco, partner of Ryan Rapp and Underwood
John Phelps, retired CEO of the State Bar of Arizona
• Retired Judge Maria Verdin, who was a policy advisor for Marsy's Law, a controversial "victims rights" law
• Sintra Hoffman, president and CEO of WestMarc, an economic booster group
Benjamin Taylor, partner at Taylor and Gomez, and NAACP volunteer
• David Rodriguez, chief deputy county attorney for the Pinal County Attorney's Office
Brett Hunt, executive director of Arizona State University's public service academy
• State Representative Walt Blackman, who has been actively involved in pushing for criminal justice reform in Arizona
• Angela Creedon, associate vice president of university affairs at ASU.

Van Dorn, Liewer, and Copple are also on the transition team.

"While their backgrounds are diverse, they all share an unwavering commitment to making our community a better place," Adel said.

Adel did not get into specifics when asked about what sort of criminal justice reforms she may seek to implement, but she did say she intends to look for both legislative solutions and internal ones, meaning she may make some changes to the way the Maricopa County Attorney's Office handles cases.

"Our team is developing our legislative agenda over the next couple of days," Adel said when asked if she plans to be active at the Legislature, as Montgomery was. However, Montgomery was mostly active at the Legislature to lobby against criminal justice reform.

Though New Times requested a one-on-one interview with Adel two weeks ago, it seems Adel has yet to sit down individually with anyone but ABC15.

In that interview last week, Adel wouldn't say if she plans to fire infamous Jodi Arias prosecutor Juan Martinez, whose alleged rampant sexual and prosecutorial misconduct during the Arias murder case may lead to her getting a new trial.

Adel said she's hired a former police commander and attorney to tackle investigations into police use of force, but didn't say who.

Adel told ABC15 she'd announce her campaign in the coming weeks and gave a little more insight into what's on her mind when it comes to criminal justice reform — she said she's interested in reducing Arizona's incarceration rate, the fourth-highest in the country, and look for ways to treat "the root causes of crime, like drug addiction."

"I want them to know that I'm a deeply principled person. I have a family here. I care deeply about this community," Adel said during the interview with ABC15.

Asked whether part of her job is to repair the reputation of the office, Adel said, "Absolutely it is. I actually was a prosecutor during the Andrew Thomas era, so I lived through that, I know what it felt like, I know what it felt like for the attorneys and staff in the office, and I could see the damage it did in the community."