Commentary: Maricopa DA Refuses Calls to Resign Despite Being in Substance Abuse Treatment

By Rory Fleming

Who is more audacious than a prosecutor who jails people for substance use while suffering from a substance addiction herself?

An elected prosecutor who goes out-of-state for weeks or months for in-patient addiction treatment on the taxpayer dime, while refusing to resign her seat.

Meet Allister Adel, the top prosecutor of Maricopa County, Arizona, who released a media statement wherein she explains that she “sought in-patient services at an in-state facility on Sunday, Aug. 29.” She also noted in the statement that, a week later, she “moved to a different location with the same behavioral health organization.” She is currently undergoing treatment in California, despite still actively serving as the Maricopa County Attorney—the DA for the third most populous county in America.

Drug addiction stigma is awful, but it impacts different people differently. The downtrodden man stocking shelves at the grocery store late at night who has been in rehab several times will get fired if caught drinking on the job, no questions asked. But many people feel for a suffering prosecutor, someone whose work is about locking purported “bad guys” up. Top prosecutors like Adel can then take advantage of burgeoning anti-stigma narratives to get away with not doing the job for long stretches of time, despite having a crucial job as the chief law enforcement officer of a major metro area.

This is not the first time this has happened. Shockingly, when Hennepin County (Minnesota) Attorney Mike Freeman of Minneapolis entered in-patient alcohol treatment for five months in 2019, he somehow managed to keep hold of the DA seat the whole time. He was presumably getting paid his taxpayer-funded salary the whole time.

This does not have to be the way, as Dallas realized when former District Attorney Susan Hawk spent chunks of her year and a half in office in in-patient mental health treatment. She was not doing her job. She was suicidal and repeatedly misusing drugs to the point of not being in control of her life. Despite her most ardent supporters arguing that no one would ask her to resign if she had cancer, calls for her resignation mounted until she left office in September 2016.

As an aside for those who think these issues are not about public safety but opportunistic politics, Texans understood that Governor Greg Abbott would appoint a fellow Republican after Hawk’s departure. And the Governor did — former judge Faith Johnson, who got in trouble for throwing parties in her courtroom while sentencing people to die in prison, took Hawk’s spot. Johnson, who was defeated in her re-election bid by reformer John Creuzot in 2018, was terrible for advocates of a more humane legal system, but at least she did her job.

A better alternative to blind empathy for hurting DAs is drug and alcohol realism. If someone is using a drug, whether alcohol, cocaine, or heroin (and whether it’s on or off the job), and it is not disrupting that person’s ability to fully and ethically discharge the duties of his or her job, leave that person be. But if that person cannot conform to the expectations of the job, then he or she should be replaced. In Adel’s case, she should resign or be forced to resign.

This is not to suggest that Adel should be barred from public office or running for the same seat in the future. If she resigned, only to run again in the future, it would be unjust for voters to judge her since she did the right thing by not wasting taxpayer money or jeopardizing her constituents’ safety. But, like in any other job, taking weeks or months off out of nowhere after floundering due to a personal crisis is simply unacceptable. If she can’t take the heat, it’s time to get out of the crime-frying kitchen.

Rory Fleming is a freelance writer and licensed attorney.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Don Shor

    This column is disgusting. I don’t even feel like debating the points the author is raising. He stigmatizes individuals and cites their personal details in order to score his point about drug policies.

    This does not belong in the Vanguard.

    1. Keith Olsen

      I totally agree.

      And you know if they weren’t DA’s that any talk about someone needing to be fired or quit their job over mental health, drug or alcohol addiction or any other health issues it would be at a minimum frowned upon or even forbidden here on the “V”.

      1. David Greenwald

        Isn’t part of the issue that the prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer in the county and she can’t do her job – literally now – given these issues.

        Meanwhile people prosecuted by her office get felonies for marijuana possession.

          1. David Greenwald

            There is a mechanism to remove a chief executive in such a position. But that’s speculation and a bit of political attack theater. This is actual and true. She acknowledged it. She checked in to rehab. I commend her for it. I just happen to believe as I said before that there is a real problem between the way people are treated on one end of the spectrum versus those with power and resources. And given her job, I think it’s incompatible.

        1. Bill Marshall

          “Limp”, in a passive-aggressive way… answering a point(s) by asking a question.

          OK, will play that game for a moment…

          Isn’t part of the issue that this is something that has no evident tie to Davis, Yolo County, CA?

          Isn’t this a form of muck-raking, doxxing, to slam individuals, publicly, to ‘profile’ many institutions?

          Isn’t this a ploy to generate ‘hits’ on this site? [a form of ‘addiction’, perhaps?]


          1. David Greenwald

            Guess what Bill Marshall – The Vanguard is no longer just a Davis, Yolo County publication. When the new site finally launches hopefully later this year, it will be very clear. In the meantime, we cover a lot that doesn’t impact Davis or Yolo County at all. You’re welcome to weigh in on it, but that’s a fact.

        2. Alan Miller

           she can’t do her job – literally now – given these issues.

          That sounds like reason for leave of absence, not a call to resign, as to how society is treating drug addiction.  I believe the way to go is leave of absence followed by termination should she relapse.

          Felony marijuana possession is something to take up with the Arizona legislature, not someone carrying out their job on what they’ve been given.  And a reason to avoid Arizona if you use marijuana.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Sure sign of the end of the world… Don S, Keith O, and me, in perfect agreement.

      There is a “Report Comment” option… but no “Report Column” option…

      This article is not ready for ‘prime time’, but is ripe (think the ‘smell’ referent) for ‘slime time’…

        1. David Greenwald

          One thing to keep in mind the war on drugs – poor people lose their jobs, get prosecuted, end up in the carceral system. The wealthy and powerful keep their jobs and check into rehab. This is issue punctuates that point. The fact that this is a DA makes it all the more blatant.

  2. David Greenwald

    The Maricopa Democratic Party is calling on her resignation…

    “While MCDP is empathetic to County Attorney Adel’s health concerns and wishes her a speedy recovery, Adel cannot lead the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) in a rehabilitation center,” said Nancy Schriber, chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party in a news release. “MCDP urges County Attorney Allister Adel to resign immediately. Recovery is a full-time job that requires complete dedication and commitment. She cannot focus on her recovery while simultaneously head an agency of over 1,000 employees.”

  3. Ron Oertel

    This column is disgusting.

    He stigmatizes individuals and cites their personal details . . . 

    I agree.

    This does not belong in the Vanguard.

    I disagree.  I think it’s a perfect fit.


        1. David Greenwald

          No Alan, they wouldn’t.  That’s why I said it framed the issue.  It lays out the argument by an identifiable source so that the average reader understands exactly the context of the dispute.  It is not a novel argument.  It is not meant to sway people, it is simply posted so people can understand what the argument is and by whom.

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