Allister Adel: Here's what you need to know about the controversies surrounding the Maricopa County Attorney

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel has been at the center of mounting controversies over a number of issues, and on March 21, the beleaguered county attorney announced her resignation.

Here's what you need to know about the various controversies Adel is dealing with.

Who is Allister Adel, and what does she do for Maricopa County?

Adel was appointed to serve as Maricopa County Attorney in 2019. Her appointment as Maricopa County Attorney came after her predecessor, Bill Montgomery, was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

At the time of her appointment, officials say Adel is the first woman to serve in that position, though another woman held the post on an interim basis after Montgomery’s resignation. Prior to her time as County Attorney, Adel worked as a prosecutor, administrative law judge and general counsel for the Arizona Department of Child Safety. She was elected to the position in her own right in 2020, defeating Julie Gunnigle in the General Election that year.

According to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office website, the office handles all felony prosecutions in Maricopa County and misdemeanor filings in the county’s justice court system, as well as providing civil legal services to all county agencies.

Officials state that Adel, as the County Attorney, is the chief prosecutor of the county.

"The County Attorney is responsible for prosecuting all felonies that occur in Maricopa County and all misdemeanors that occur in unincorporated areas. In addition, the County Attorney serves as legal counsel for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and all County departments," a portion of the website read.

So, what's going on with Adel?

Adel has been facing a number of issues, some of which date back to 2020.

On Election Night, it was reported that Adel fell at her home and hit her head. A spokesperson said Adel was taken to a hospital that same night, where her condition worsened. Adel later underwent emergency surgery to address the brain bleed.

A month later, Adel issued a statement thanking voters for electing her.

"I'm proud to be the first woman elected as the Maricopa County Attorney and I want to thank the voters of Maricopa County for entrusting me with this honor," Adel wrote.

In September 2021, Adel announced she was seeking treatment for a number of issues related to mental health and the use of alcohol. 

"After a very difficult year for me medically, professionally and personally, I have made the decision to seek treatment for anxiety and to address unhealthy coping behaviors including an eating disorder and alcohol use," Adel said in the statement on Sept. 10.

On Sept. 14, it was revealed that she first sought in-patient services at an in-state facility on Aug. 29.

"One week later, and after several assessments, I moved to different location with the same behavioral health organization and am currently receiving treatment in California," Adel wrote, in the statement.

Adel later returned to work on Sept. 20.

Why is Adel facing pressures to resign?

In the aftermath of Adel's announcement that she was seeking treatment for anxiety, eating disorder and alcohol use, the Maricopa County Democratic Party called on Adel to resign immediately.

"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 in a rehabilitation center," read a portion of the statement. "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."

At around the same time, a group that that calls itself Mass Liberation AZ made a similar call. The group also called for Adel to be recalled from office if she refused to resign.

"Adel’s confession that her personal, professional, and medical difficulties have led her to unhealthy coping behaviors is a slap in the face to the thousands of people who have been criminalized, prosecuted, and caged by her office for substance use," read a portion of the statement from Mass Liberation AZ. "It is in Allister Adel’s best interest to resign from her position and stop holding this office hostage. Adel doesn’t get to hide out during the calls for accountability. The community will not tolerate it. She can either resign or we will recall her."

In February 2021, the chiefs of five criminal divisions in the Maricopa County Attorney's Ofice say Adel called into question her ability to do her job by rarely being in the office, showing signs of being inebriated during phone calls and not providing leadership.

"We asked you to step up. You have either been unwilling or unable to do so. Therefore, we are now asking you to step down, so that you and MCAO can finally begin the healing process," a portion of the letter read.

On Feb. 22, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss concerns surrounding Adel. While County Supervisors did not reveal exactly what was talked about during the executive session, we have learned that they received legal advice on the board's authority and responsibility regarding the County Attorney's office.

The Arizona State Bar, meanwhile, confirms that an investigation into Adel is underway over allegation of "failing to properly supervise her office."

Has Adel addressed the calls for her resignation?

Adel has, on two occasions, resisted calls for her to resign.

"I vehemently disagree with the characterization of me in this letter and I have no plans to resign. I am honored to have been duly elected County Attorney and will continue to perform my duties as I was elected to do," read a portion of Adel's letter, dated Feb. 15.

On Feb. 22, we obtained a copy of the letter Adel addressed to the five division chiefs, in response to their calls for her to resign.

In that letter which was addressed to Juvenile Crimes Division Chief Elizabeth Beringhaus, Training and Post-Conviction Proceedings Division Chief Ryan Green, Trian Division Chief Jason Kalish, 2nd Specialized Prosecution Division Chief Barbara Marshall, and 1st Specialized Prosecution Special Assistant and Division Chief Rachel Mitchell , Adel once again resisted calls for her to resign, saying she is a duly-elected county attorney, and intends to serve out her term, and any other terms, as voters decide.

In the same letter, Adel said she has not practiced law while under the influence of any substances, and that admitting to "an alcohol abuse issue, sought treatment for it, and experienced relapses" is not an ethics violation.

Furthermore, Adel claims, in the letter, that the five chiefs are all running divisions that are facing significant challenges, and that she needs the chiefs to "focus on your work and your employees and stop trying to dictate and second-guess the way I choose to manage this office and the decisions I make."

On March 21, Adel announced that she will resign from office, effective March 25.

What other controversies is Adel's office facing?

Adel was involved in a controversy over protesters being falsely arrested on gang charges during protests in 2020.

The case began on Oct. 17, 2020, after 15 protesters were arrested during a march against police brutality in Downtown Phoenix. They were indicted by a grand jury on charges of assisting with a criminal street gang, with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office alleging that the protesters were part of a gang called ACAB - "All Cops Are B******s." Prosecutors said the gang was made to create violence against police.

The investigation noted that both Phoenix Police and the MCAO made the decision to press gang-related charges.

Adel filed a motion in June 2021 to dismiss all of the charges related to the protests, citing a lack of time and resources needed to pursue the case.

In a letter to the Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher said the testimonies of a Phoenix police sergeant and a deputy with MCAO were described as "egregious," and that information presented to the jury had been "false."

In February 2022, Adel was named in a defamation suit filed by prosecutor April Sponsel, the lead prosecutor in the now-dismissed case who is currently on paid administrative leave. Sponsel claims Adel used her as a scapegoat and told lies about her to the media, so she filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the MCAO.

Meanwhile, the defense attorney on a capital punishment case is questioning whether Adel actually made the decision to seek the death penalty for the defendant.

In an e-mail to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office on Feb. 3, criminal defense lawyer Marci Kratter wrote:

"We have the right to know whether Ms. Adel made the decision, as required by the law, to seek the death penalty in our client’s case. Ms. Adel’s management team has expressed concern about her sobriety and its effect on her ability to do her job, as well as absences from the office."

Kratter represents Maribel Loera. Loera, along with her husband, Rafael Loera, are charged with first-degree murder in the death of their adoptive daughter whose remains were found in a house fire in January 2020.

On Feb. 24, we have learned that Kratter filed a motion to strike the notice of intent to seek the death penalty for Loera, and ban prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the case due to a now-passed deadline to file the Notice of Intent.

The same motion also asks the court to disqualify the MCAO from further involvement in the case, unless it can be demonstrated that Adel is providing proper supervision, and was the person who actually made the decision to file the Notice of Intent.

On March 14, we reported on how a missed deadline at the MCAO resulted in many criminal charges reportedly being dropped in the county.

An investigation uncovered the county attorney's office had to drop 180 misdemeanor cases including, drunk driving and domestic assault cases, because prosecutors forgot to file charges before a deadline passed.

What are the possible impacts from Kratter's allegation?

Under Arizona law, only the elected county attorney can approve notices of intent to seek the death penalty. Since she took office in 2019, Adel has signed off on 17 notices of intent to seek the death penalty, compared to 41 notices for Adel's predecessor from 2010 to 2012, and 89 for Montgomery's predecessor, Andrew Thomas, from 2005 to 2007.

"The county attorney is the most powerful person in the justice system, hands down. More powerful than the judge, more powerful than the defense lawyer. Prosecutors have an unbelievable amount of discretion," said Marc J. Victor, a criminal defense attorney and managing partner of Attorneys For Freedom. Victor was not involved in the e-mail written by Kratter.

Victor says he expects other defense attorneys with clients facing the death penalty to put the pressure on MCAO amid Adel's mounting controversy.

"I would expect nothing less of competent criminal defense lawyers in this state," said Victor. "They’re not gonna sit by idly and let their clients be treated without scrupulous attention to due process."

Victor also talked about other possible ripple effects.

"I guess the initial threshold question is: was she competent and fit for duty at the time she made these kinds of decisions? said Victor.

Beyond its impact on defendants, families of victims could also feel the impact.

Monique Cardiel's 18-year-old son, Tyler, was gunned down in Christmas 2020 as he worked home from work. Since Tyler's death, prosecutors have filed to seek the death penalty for his alleged killer, Timothy Bell. Adel approved the notice of intent, and Monique is now concerned.

"I am concerned," said Monique. "It is terrifying because this is justice for my child. I don't know what's gonna happen. I don't know how it will play out."

Monique is not pounding the table for capital punishment. Ultimately, she just wants Bell sentenced to life in prison.

"Nothing is gonna ever bring my son back, so at the very least, I want justice for him," said Monique.

"Of course defendants should be concerned. Of course victims should be concerned. Family members of victims should be concerned, but all citizens should be concerned," said Victor.

What is Adel's response to Kratter's allegation?

In a statement regarding death penalty decisions, Adel wrote:

"Death penalty decisions are made based on recommendations from a committee that are given to me for review. I thoroughly and thoughtfully review those recommendations before deciding whether MCAO should pursue the death penalty. At no time have I failed to do so."

What is Governor Doug Ducey saying about the controversies

On March 15, following the report oncharges being dropped due to a missed deadline, Gov. Ducey talked about the controversy.

"This is really unacceptable," said Gov. Ducey. "The police officers that put their life on the line everyday and the victims of these crimes deserve justice."

When asked about Adel herself, Gov. Ducey said leaders should take responsibility, rather than blaming those on their team.

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