Prosecutors Trade Accusations in Race for County Attorney in 3rd Largest County Jurisdiction in U.S.

Julie Gunnigle

By Mia Machado

MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ – Current county attorney Allister Adel and challenger Julie Gunnigle participated this past Saturday on Dr. Mike O’Neil’s “The Think Tank,” in a debate ahead of Maricopa County’s election for county attorney.

The two candidates discussed key issues such as mass incarceration and cash bail, while also raising questions about their histories as prosecutors.

With less than four weeks to election day, Mike O’Neil chose to host the candidates for county attorney in Maricopa County, the third-largest jurisdiction in the nation.

O’Neil chose this office for debate because he believes county attorney is “the most important position in the entire criminal justice system” and that whoever sits in this role holds “a huge amount of discretionary power.”

Currently up for reelection is Adel, who was appointed late last year when her predecessor was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court. Prior to becoming the first woman county attorney in Maricopa County, Adel attended ASU Law School to be a prosecutor and spent seven years doing just that.

Challenging Adel is Gunnigle, a former prosecutor in both Indiana and Illinois, who, after graduating from Notre Dame Law School with honors, had her work cited to the United States Supreme Court.

Following opening statements, candidates were asked to weigh in about Arizona’s alarmingly high incarceration rate—topping all but four other states—and how to solve the problem.

After attributing responsibility for Arizona’s incarceration rates to her predecessor, Bill Montgomery, Adel touched on the efforts that her office has made to reduce jail populations during the pandemic, her changes to plea policies to allow for more discretion, and her collaborative efforts with community stakeholders to move towards reform.

Responding to her opponent, Gunnigle shared that she was surprised to hear that there is a commitment from Adel to stop these practices, given that “when she applied for this job, she said that she would be proud to build upon the legacy of Bill Montgomery,” the man Gunnigle claims has given Arizona its “legacy of mass incarceration.”

Gunnigle explained her plan to reduce the rate of incarceration by 20 percent in the next four years, and said that she is “ready to make real change.” Targeting her opponent, Gunnigle charged that “when you’ve had someone who’s been in office for 13 months, it’s not enough to start making reforms a mere 13 weeks before an election, you need to have that commitment for the entire course.”

While sharing similar sentiments around the need for incarceration reform, candidates Adel and Gunnigle held competing views on the topic of cash bail.

Gunnigle expressed her discontent for a cash bond system that “disproportionately affects marginalized citizens” and claimed that, if elected, her prosecutors would stop asking for cash bail and that she will be at the legislature advocating for statutory reform.

Speaking in defense of cash bail, Adel argued that bond is taken very seriously and that it is not there to be punitive. Adel clarified that bond exists to ensure appearances in court and to protect both the victims and the community.

When candidates were given the floor to ask each other questions, the conversation shifted to address their histories as prosecutors.

Addressing Adel, Gunnigle referenced a conflicting statement made by the county attorney during an interview. Adel had expressed that if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, she believed the law must be upheld, but that she was certain women would not be prosecuted for abortions.

After referencing the current Arizona legislation that creates a mandatory minimum for women accessing abortion and criminalizes contraceptives, Gunnigle questioned if Adel would uphold such laws and prosecute women if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned.

Adel responded by claiming that over her seven years as a prosecutor and her time leading the office, she has never prosecuted a woman for an abortion. After asserting that law enforcement does not submit cases on abortion, she added that as a prosecutor, however, “you don’t get to pick and choose what cases are submitted” and that it depends on the police.

Gunnigle was quick to point out that her question remained unanswered, and that the reason Adel is not receiving submissions now is that “Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land.” After repeating her question, Adel simply replied that speculating that women would begin to be prosecuted is “irresponsible.”

Adel, in turn, referenced Gunnigle’s involvement in a federal lawsuit while practicing law in Cook County, and questioned if that was the last trial she was involved with “before [she] moved here to be dean of students at the now failed Summit School of Law.”

After clarifying that she and the 15 other people named in the lawsuit had been cleared of any allegations of misconduct, Gunnigle responded that it is “beneath the dignity of us to continue to push out these sort of lies” and emphasized instead the interest of voters to fix the criminal justice system, and making sure sentences fit the crime.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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