Deep differences between candidates for Maricopa County Attorney

Maricopa County voters on Election Day will decide whether Republican Allister Adel should remain as county attorney or whether progressive Democratic candidate Julie Gunnigle should take on the role of lead prosecutor in Arizona’s most populous county. 

The two bring starkly different visions to the role. 

Adel, who was unanimously appointed by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last October when Bill Montgomery was appointed to the state Supreme Court, has brought a number of changes to the office to increase transparency, has emphasized treatment over punishment, and has sought to strengthen relationships with various stakeholders like the business community.  

Her resume is long and impressive, and the number of reforms she has implemented in a year reveal an active leadership style.  

She’s earned a number of endorsements from respected Arizonans like former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg. 

“Allister Adel is uniquely qualified to continue to serve as Maricopa County Attorney,” Kyl said. “She has a strong record as a law and order prosecutor and has a strong reputation in the greater Phoenix legal community. She is a thoughtful, careful attorney who will seek justice on behalf of innocent victims in Maricopa County. I am proud to endorse her election in 2020.” 

Although having served as Maricopa County Attorney for a year, this is Adel’s first run for office. She served more than seven years as a deputy county attorney before ascending to the top prosecutor position. 

While this is Gunnigle’s first attempt to become county attorney, it is not her first campaign for public office. She mounted a quixotic race for the state House of Representatives in 2018 in a North Phoenix district coming in a distant fourth out of four candidates. 

In her campaign for county attorney she’s garnered support from labor unions like AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as issue-oriented groups like the abortion advocacy group Planned Parenthood and the National Organization of Women. 

Gunnigle has also taught at the now-defunct Arizona Summit Law School. The school closed its doors in 2018 amid financial struggles and low state bar exam passage rates.

Criminal justice reform 

Criminal justice reform has emerged as a top issue in prosecutor races across the country and in Maricopa County. 

During her time as county attorney, Adel has bolstered diversion programs and she has worked to increase transparency in her office by making body camera footage publicly available and advocating for the mandatory use of body cameras by law enforcement agencies. 

She also wants to partner with the Legislature to review sentencing guidelines, which are set by the state.  

Gunnigle has made politically progressive policy reforms a major theme of her campaign, saying she’ll not charge low-level marijuana offenses regardless of whether voters choose to legalize recreational marijuana, will end cash bail, and has promised to dramatically lower the county’s incarceration rate. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, which supports a progressive criminal justice and law enforcement reform agenda, is advertising in Arizona via the group’s Smart Justice program to elevate the issue of reform and highlight the race among voters.  

The group’s agenda includes reducing Arizona’s prison population by 50 percent, opposing the criminal prohibition of drugs, and decriminalizing “sex work,” something Gunnigle also supports

Phoenix attorney Andrew Pacheco, a criminal justice reform advocate who has previously served as a deputy Maricopa County Attorney, assistant United States Attorney and who is the former criminal division chief for the Arizona Attorney General, is backing Adel. 

“During her time as County Attorney, she has created meaningful change in the office and done so with integrity,” Pacheco said. “I look forward to working with her on much needed criminal justice reform and ensuring justice for all in this community.” 

Public safety

Adel has made public safety a cornerstone of her campaign and she has strongly opposed the effort to “defund” police agencies. 

Adel says she seeks to strike a balance between well-resourced law enforcement agencies, community services for those who need them, and holding lawbreakers accountable. 

“This is not an either/or situation; and calls for defunding police or ‘reallocating funding’ as my opponent likes to say, are shortsighted and dangerous,” Adel said. 

Gunnigle recently backed an effort at the Phoenix City Council to cut the Phoenix Police Department budget and has been outspoken on social media about high-profile charging decisions without reviewing the full investigation and evidence of the case. 

She recently got into a social media argument with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) for an allegation she made about an ongoing investigation. 

PLEA has endorsed Adel. 

“Allister’s opponent has spent countless months making false allegations about the men and women who serve in law enforcement, supported the Defund Police movement here in Phoenix, and is backed by organizations that want to completely dismantle police departments,” London said. “Our criminal justice system deserves better than that type of behavior.”

An electoral first

No matter who wins the race, the victor will be the first woman elected as Maricopa County Attorney, one of the largest prosecutor offices in the country. 

Adel or Gunnigle won’t be the first female county attorney elected in Arizona, though. Barbara LaWall is Pima County Attorney, and Sheila Polk is Yavapai County Attorney. 

Arjun Rondla

Arjun Rondla is an undergraduate studying political science at Arizona State University and an intern at Chamber Business News.

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