PHOENIX — Just a few days after being sworn in, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel is promising sweeping changes to an office which has often been mired in controversy.
In an exclusive interview with ABC 15, Adel promised to clear a backlog of public records requests, put a greater priority on investigating police use of force, and appoint a citizens review panel to act as a watchdog for the office itself.
"The office should not be in headlines for things that are a distraction for the people doing that hard work in there," she said. "We will restore any broken confidences in the community. I'm committed to that."
Adel inherits an office already dealing with an ethics complaint involving one of its top prosecutors, Juan Martinez. Martinez has faced seven complaints for prosecutorial misconduct in the last four years, and his personnel file shows complaints of sexual harassment dating back 30 years. Adel won't say if she plans to fire Martinez.
She said she will allow the ethics investigations to run their course. Those investigations are being handled by the Arizona State Bar, and an independent counsel appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Adel's predecessor, former county attorney Bill Montgomery, is also facing an ethics complaint that he failed to properly supervise Martinez.
Montgomery left the county attorney's office last month, after Governor Doug Ducey appointed him to the state supreme court.
Adel said she draws on her experience in the county attorney's office under former prosecutor Andrew Thomas. Thomas was disbarred after leaving office, accused of abusing his power to carry out politically motivated investigations.
"I lived through that. I know what it felt like. I know what it felt like for the attorneys and the staff in the office, and I could see the damage it did in the community," she said.
Adel also said she is committed to criminal justice reform -- another departure from her conservative predecessor.
Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the country, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion each year. Adel wants to focus on diversion programs and drug treatment for first-time and non-violent offenders.
"If we have these defendants back and working and contributing to the economy and paying their taxes, that helps every single one of us... rather than them resorting to what they know which is to go to crime," she said.
Adel was appointed by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last week in a unanimous vote.
She will serve out the remainder of Montgomery's term, which ends in 2020. Adel, a Republican, also confirms, she is launching a campaign to retain the seat when voters go to the polls in November 2020.