Maricopa County voters to choose new county attorney this year; Here's what you should know

This year, voters in Maricopa County will choose a new county attorney, after Allister Adel's controversial tenure and her resignation from office.

Here's what you should know about the race to succeed Adel.

Why is there a race to succeed Adel?

Adel announced her resignation as Maricopa County Attorney on March 21, and the resignation took effect at 5:00 p.m. on March 25. Adel had been faced many controversies during the latter part of her time in office, including treatment for mental health and use of alcohol and other work-related issues, including a controversy involving protesters being falsely arrested on gang charges during protests in 2020.

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

Prior to Adel's resignation, she had been facing calls to resign, both from outside groups and from those within the MCAO. Adel had previously resisted pressures to resign.

What does the Maricopa County Attorney's Office do?

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 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.

What are the requirements for running in the race?

According to Arizona law, a person must be an ‘attorney at law, licensed and in good standing in this state’ in order to become a county attorney.

To qualify for the August primary election ballot, a candidate needed more than 4,300 signatures. County Recorder Stephen Richer said April 4 was the deadline for prospective Maricopa County Attorney candidates to submit their signature to the office, in order to qualify for the August primary election ballot.

Who has filed signatures in the county attorney race?

According to a tweet made by Richer on April 1, six people have filed signatures for the race. They are:

  • Julie Gunnigle (Democratic)
  • Anni Foster (Republican)
  • Gina Godbehere (Republican)
  • Rachel Mitchell (Republican)
  • James Austin Woods (Republican)
  • Michael Kielsky (Libertarian)

In an interview, Richer had referred to the signature gathering operation for the election as a Herculean effort.

"This really is a big lift," said Richer. "Most candidates spend several months to gather signatures required, and if you were to pay someone, I’m hearing the going rate is $10 to $20 a signature."

Who might qualify for the ballot?

Of the candidates who have filed signatures, four of them - Foster, Godbehere, Gunnigle and Mitchell - have received the signature they needed to qualify for their respective party's primary election ballot.

"It was a challenge and something we were so concerned about: whether or how we can do it in 13 days, and the public showed up for me, and we did it in 21 hours," said Gunnigle, the first candidate to reach the signature threshold. Gunnigle ran against Adel in 2020, but lost.

"I had a heart attack a little bit in trying to figure out how I was going to make this happen," said Godbehere, who is currently the chief prosecutor for the City of Goodyear, and is the first Republican Party candidate to reach the signature threshold.

"When we got here, we knew it was over 10,000, but the final count is over 11,00s signatures we submitted today," said Foster, who currently works as the General Counsel for Gov. Doug Ducey.

"6,285, I believe, was the final count," said Mitchell, who currently works as a Deputy Chief Attorney in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. She has been with the office for more than 30 years, and is the last candidate to enter the race.

On April 25, Foster announced she has withdrawn from the county attorney race.

How did the candidates collect the needed signatures so quickly?

Candidates were able to collect digital signatures, and complete the process in a matter of days because of the Secretary of State's E-QUAL system, which automatically verifies voter information.

The traditional pen-and-paper signature gathering process would have taken several months.

So, what's next?

From April 5 to 18, a window existed where anyone can challenge the validity of the signatures collected.

Once the signatures are verified, the qualifying candidates' names will be added to the August primary election ballot.

Who's serving as Maricopa County Attorney in the meantime?

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors must select another Republican to temporarily assume Adels's role until a new county attorney is elected.

As for who might be appointed in the interim, former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley has told FOX 10 that he is willing to step in.

On April 15, officials with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors issued a statement, inviting Foster, Godbehere and Mitchell to apply for appointment to the position on an interim basis.

Gunnigle was not invited because of her affiliation with the Democratic Party. Ultimately, Mitchell was selected to serve.

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The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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