Allister Adel: Candidates emerge in fight to replace now-resigned Maricopa County Attorney

Beleaguered Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel has announced her resignation.

In a statement released on March 21, Adel said her resignation will take effect at 5 p.m. on March 25.

"Voters supported me in November 2020 as the first woman elected to be Maricopa County Attorney and it is an honor I will always cherish," read a portion of the statement released by Adel. "I want to thank the employees of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. I value and respect the work and dedication you give to this office. Few people genuinely realize, or appreciate, how hard this work is or how committed you are to serving the greater good, but I do."

County Supervisors held meeting to discuss Adel, accept resignation

Earlier in the day, Members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors held a meeting to hear legal advice with regards to Adel.

According to an agenda for the meeting, members of the board were set to talk about the board's authority and responsibility, as it concerns the Office of the County Attorney. Two lawyers also gave legal advice concerning the County Attorney, according to the agenda.

By afternoon, the board met again and announced its acceptance of her resignation. The board also called for an election to fill the upcoming vacancy, which will be held during the August Primary Election, which is required by law.

"I appreciate Allister Adel's service to residents as the duly elected county attorney. She brought to the office fresh ideas and important reforms, including increased focus on diversion in criminal cases. In her direct interactions with the Board of Supervisors, she served us well," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates, District 3. "I believe Allister's resignation represents what is best for her, her family, the County's Attorney Office, and the criminal justice system."

Adel plagued by controversy during recent term

Adel, who was appointed to serve as Maricopa County Attorney in 2019 and elected to the seat in her own right in 2020, has been facing a number of controversies over the past year.

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

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.

Adel was also involved in a controversy over protesters being falsely arrested on gang charges during protests in 2020. It has also emerged that the MCAO was forced to drop nearly 200 criminal charges due to a missed deadline.

Adel has faced calls to resign from various people, including prosecutors from the county attorney's office.

One group has even called for Adel to be recalled.

"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."

Adel had perviously resisted calls to step down.

"You have stated that you have no confidence in my ability to run this office. If that makes it impossible for you to continue to work here in any capacity, your option is to resign from the office, not to demand my resignation and cast unjustified accusations and innuendo at me," Adel wrote, in response to calls for her to resign from prosecutors within her office.

The same day as Adel's resignation, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey released a statement saying, in part, "Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel made a difficult, brave and very personal decision. I respect her choice and wish her and her family the best. I want to thank her for her service to the people of Maricopa County."

Former Communications Director speaks out

In the aftermath of Adel's resignation, her former Communications Director, Jennifer Liewer, weighed in on what happened in recent months.

"It's a really unfortunate situation," said Liewer, who worked as Adel's Communications Director for 2.5 years before she resigned.

"My staff is being put in difficult position," said Liewer. "I thought the best thing I could do would be to resign."

Liewer said things started strong at Adel's office, with common goals of punishing criminals and protecting victims, but then, Adel's addiction issues led to a devastating loss of leadership.

"A big part of that, I think, was based on the personal things that I was there, having to face," said Liewer.

What's next for the Maricopa County Attorney position?

In the aftermath of Adel's resignation, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors must select another Republican to temporarily assume the role. Voters will then head to the polls to elect a new county attorney, in nine months.

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.

"I'd be willing to step in for that short period of time to help right the ship, stay focused on getting the office back together and restoring public trust," said Romley.

What about the election?

According to Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer on March 23, there are now seven candidates in the fight to replace Adel.

On the Democratic side, Julie Gunnigle, who lost to Adel in the November 2020 election, is again running for the position.

On her Twitter page, Gunnigle made a tweet on March 22, claiming she has gathered the necessary signatures to make it to the ballot.

"Those signatures gathered through the E-Qual portal are automatically verified, meaning you don’t have to worry about those signatures being challenged, as you would when getting signatures the old-fashioned way by gathering by pen and paper," said Richer.

On the Republican side, there are five candidates: Anni Foster, who is currently general counsel for Gov. Doug Ducey, Gina Godbehere, Rachel Mitchell, Stephen Walker, and James Austin Woods.

For the Libertarians, there is one candidate: Michael Kielsky.

Candidates have just 13 days to meet the first qualifying deadline, which is set for April 4. That is when each candidate must turn in around 4,000 signatures each.

The Maricopa County Recorder, Stephen Richer, calls this 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."

Phoenix civil rights attorney Benjamin Taylor says the timing of her resignation is what's intriguing in the legal community. "It's a shock because Adel resigned today. If she had waited and resigned in April, then the board of supervisors could appoint somebody to fulfill her two years.

It's no easy feat as any attorney who wants their name on the ballot needs over 4,000 legitimate signatures almost immediately.

"One of the key factors is … anybody who wants to run for election has to put in their signatures by April 4. That's two weeks," Taylor said. "The interim is going to be very interesting. A lot of times maybe the interim is somebody that's planning to run. That gives that person momentum up until the general election."

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