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Maricopa County Attorney candidates speak out ahead of primary election

MCAO candidates rachel mitchell gina godbehere julie gunnigle
Posted at 6:32 PM, Aug 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-01 21:32:50-04

PHOENIX — As the primary election nears, we continue keeping a close eye on the GOP primary for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Here’s where interim County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, opponent Gina Godbehere, and uncontested Democratic candidate Julie Gunnigle stand on important issues currently impacting the office.

“Our job is to do justice,” said County Attorney Rachel Mitchell.

Republican candidate Mitchell sat down with us to talk about her priorities for the office. She says one of the biggest is addressing the staffing shortage.

“We have been very aggressively, as you know, addressing those by having an aggressive recruitment campaign. And that has yielded some very good attorneys,” she said.

County Attorney Mitchell says this effort has already helped drop the backlog of officer-involved shootings that need to be investigated.

However, she says there is more work to do with other criminal cases.

“The one that’s going to take the longest to rectify is the uncharged backlogs,” she added.

Mitchell also says it’s vital the office doesn’t overcharge and addresses mental health.

As for her stance on abortion in the wake of the recent Roe v. Wade ruling: “If there is a submittal that comes into my office the someone has performed an abortion, I am committed to enforcing the law,” said County Attorney Mitchell.

“Does that account for rape and incest, or would you handle those differently?” asked ABC15’s Luzdelia Caballero.

“So those are situations where that would not be prosecuted and they’re not prosecutable under the law,” Mitchell said.

“So would health care providers be prosecuted in turn, potentially?” ABC15 asked.

“I would look at those cases,” Mitchell responded.

We also talked about April Sponsel, a prosecutor involved in wrongfully charging 15 protesters as gang members in 2020 — an act brought to light by ABC15’s Politically Charged investigation series.

County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says the county is currently only checking cases involving Sponsel brought forth to the office.

“Given that she has a proven pattern of unethical behavior, why not check all of them?” asked ABC15.

“I mean, are we looking for something that falls outside the pattern that we’ve seen? No. But if somebody brings something to us even outside the pattern that we’ve seen, we will certainly look at it,” she responded.

We also reached out to Gina Godbehere, County Attorney Mitchell’s opponent in the primary election, but she was not available for an interview.

Though, according to her campaign page, she'll be focusing on reducing crime, clearing backlogs, and restoring the community’s confidence in the office.

Uncontested Democratic candidate Julie Gunnigle tells ABC15 that her priority is earning back the trust of the community.

“The tide is turning in the county,” she said, adding she was looking forward to seeing who her Republican opponent would be.

Gunnigle says she wants to see an office that seeks justice and focuses on the staffing issue.

“I think when we enter that office with a fresh perspective and a willingness to change the culture, is also going to be a lot easier to attract talented attorneys into that office,” said Gunnigle.

She says clearing the backlogs is also a must, though this is what she says is her first priority: “Address the corruption that’s been happening in that office so that we can earn back the community’s trust….and the culture that led us to, for example, the office colluding with Phoenix PD and inventing fake gang charges that ended up almost imprisoning many of our protesters, one for over 100-and-a-half years,” said the Democratic candidate.

She added if she was County Attorney, she would be proactive about reviewing all cases involving April Sponsel.

“The prosecutor ought to be proactive on this issue. We know what April Sponsel did, we just don’t know how many times she did it so every case ought to be reviewed without someone even asking for it,” Gunnigle told ABC15.

With regards to abortion, Gunnigle says she will not use the legal system to prosecute women or health care providers for performing or having an abortion.

“Not now. Not ever. These laws date back to 1864 for goodness sakes. Confederacy-era Arizona where women would not have even had the chance to vote on these laws or the people who enact them,” added Gunnigle.

Instead, she aims to repurpose those tax dollars to address gun violence and treat addiction and mental health.

“I want this office to only make news because it is doing justice. I don’t want to hear any more headlines about corrupt county attorneys who get fired. I don’t want to hear headlines about political prosecution, failures in the Brady List,” Gunnigle told ABC15.

The primary election takes place on Aug. 2.