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Allister Adel resigns as Maricopa County attorney as scrutiny intensifies

Embattled Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, who has been under increasing scrutiny due to a battle with alcohol addiction and high-profile snafus within her agency, will resign from office.

Adel announced that she'll step down at the end of the week, on March 25. In a press statement on Monday, Adel didn't address the controversies swirling around her tenure, using her announcement to thank supporters and employees of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

"I am proud of the many accomplishments of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office during my tenure, including policies that seek justice in a fair and equitable manner, hold violent offenders accountable, protect the rights of crime victims, and keep families safe," Adel said.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will appoint a new county attorney to replace Adel. It's unclear what the timeline will be for that process. The supervisors on Monday scheduled a special election for the office, which will be concurrent with the previously scheduled Aug. 2 primary election and Nov. 8 general election. Whoever wins that election will serve out the remaining two years of the four-year term Adel was elected to in 2020.

Adel was appointed in 2019 following the resignation of Bill Montgomery, and was elected to a full term in 2020. She is the first woman to serve as Maricopa County attorney.

Since her election, Adel's tenure has been plagued by medical issues and controversies.

She was hospitalized on election night in 2020 and underwent surgery for a brain bleed. In September 2021, Adel quietly checked herself into a rehab facility for alcohol abuse and an eating disorder. Adel didn't publicly reveal that she was in rehab or inform the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors until Sheriff Paul Penzone confronted her office.

Since then, she's faced criticism from within her agency over prolonged absences and her professional conduct, including in a letter signed by her five criminal division chiefs who called for her resignation. Adel responded that if the division chiefs had a problem with her leadership that they should resign, not her.

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Adel has also faced criticism over her actions as county attorney. Her office filed gang-related charges against 15 people who were arrested during an anti-police brutality protest, later dropping the charges after it became clear the defendants weren't actually part of any gang. The protesters are suing MCAO for $10 million in damages.

Earlier this month, MCAO was forced to drop 180 misdemeanor criminal cases, including some involving alleged drunk driving, domestic violence and assault, after prosecutors forgot to file charges for a year. Adel initially said that the problem in no way indicated that she was incapable of running the office, and attributed the mistake to the failure of a few employees who didn't do their jobs properly. She later said she took full responsibility for the errors.

Adel is the subject of multiple State Bar of Arizona investigations into her alcohol problems and the false charges her office filed against the protesters.

State Bar spokesman Joe Hengemuehler told the Arizona Mirror that Adel informed the Bar of her decision to resign this morning. The disciplinary investigations into Adel will continue, he said. Hengemuehler said he couldn't comment further on Adel's resignation or the investigations into her. He confirmed that the Bar met with Adel last week.

The Board of Supervisors will appoint a replacement for Adel who will serve at least until the November election. State law requires that whomever the board appoints be a Republican, like Adel.

The timing of Adel's resignation means the county will have to hold an election for the final two years of her term in office. The county attorney's office wouldn't normally be up for election until 2024. But state law dictates that a special election must be held if a vacancy occurs with more than two years remaining in the term, and if the office becomes vacant before the filing deadline for candidates to run in that year's election.

Candidates for office in the 2022 primary election must file their nominating petitions to qualify for the ballot by April 4. That means if an election must be held for county attorney this year, candidates will only have a maximum of 15 days to collect signatures on their petitions. Republican candidates must collect more than 4,500 signatures and Democratic candidates must collect a minimum of about 4,300.

In her resignation statement, Adel didn't address any of the problems or controversies that have surrounded her over the past year. She thanked her employees at MCAO for their work, her family, friends, colleagues and voters for their support, and expressed confidence that "the important mission of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office will continue." She said being the first woman elected to lead MCAO "is an honor I will always cherish."

Though she is stepping down as county attorney, Adel said, "My dedication and service to my community does not end here."

Bill Gates, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he believes Adel's resignation is what's best for her, her family, MCAO and the criminal justice system.

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"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," Gates said in a press statement on Monday.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who last week called on Adel to take responsibility for the 180 botched cases, called her resignation 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," Ducey said in a press statement.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated with additional information and comments.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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