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State bar investigating cases dropped by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office after the statute of limitations expired

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office said they "failed to review" 180 misdemeanor cases from 2020 before the statute of limitations expired.

PHOENIX — The State Bar of Arizona is now investigating the nearly 200 cases that have been dropped by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

The office said they failed to file charges on the misdemeanor cases from 2020 before the statute of limitations expired. Now, people who were accused of things like driving drunk, domestic violence and criminal trespassing will not be charged at all.

"Isolated incident"

It was in 2019, 13 months after Shannon Dillard’s daughter Audri, friend Jesel and their dog died after being struck by a man police said was driving drunk.

“In our case, where there were so many deaths, you can’t just say, ‘Oops,’” Dillard said.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office decided not to file manslaughter charges, saying it wasn’t likely they’d get a conviction at trial.

The driver could have been charged with misdemeanor DUI charges. However, they weren’t filed on time and the statute of limitations expired.

“Everything that’s happening now is so unfortunate,” Dillard said. “Because we were told and we were promised.”

In 2019, the Maricopa County Attorney’s office said changes would be made to make sure it didn’t happen again, including reviewing protocols and getting alerts before the statute of limitations expires on a case.

Dillard complained about the prosecutor in her daughter’s case to The State Bar of Arizona, which oversees attorneys.

In a letter dated March 3, 2020, The State Bar of Arizona wrote a letter concerning the case, saying that the case, "appears to be an isolated incident," based on conversations with the prosecutor Dillard complained about.

“I have determined that further investigation is not warranted at this time,” counsel for The State Bar wrote in the letter.

Dillard said after all of the concerns she and other family members of the victims raised, the driver plead guilty to one felony count of endangerment. Court records show the driver was sentenced to jail for a year in December 2021.

"The job is just not getting done"

On Tuesday, The State Bar of Arizona said they’re now investigating the 180 dropped cases.

In a statement to 12 News, The State Bar said:

“We are aware of the allegations made in the news recently about the MCAO’s dismissed cases. We are currently investigating those allegations.  If our investigation implicates any previously dismissed charges, we have the ability to re-open those matters for further evaluation.”

12 News has asked the Maricopa County Attorney’s office if they did make the changes after Dillard’s daughter’s case in 2019 and if they had, how the roughly 180 cases in 2020 slipped through the cracks, but we have not received a response back.

Rick Romley formerly held the top prosecutor position in Maricopa County for more than 15 years.

“The job is just not getting done. And what can you say to these individuals? ‘I'm sorry?’ I'm sorry -  that doesn't get it,” Romley said.

During his tenure, Romley said he had never had a case dropped because attorneys missed the statute of limitations.

“I had a policy in my office that cases had to be reviewed within 30 days,” Romley said. “And I can’t remember a single time when we ever dropped anything because of the statute of limitations.”

Romley points out that while the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said the cases that were forgotten in 2020 were misdemeanor cases, those are cases that are often how individuals start moving into the criminal justice system and can help keep criminal issues like drunk driving and domestic violence from escalating.

“I have found that these misdemeanors if you don't address them really early in the process, they generally result in more serious types of charges later in the future,” Romley said.

"Unacceptable"

Governor Doug Ducey was asked about the cases being dropped by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, who said it’s the victims in the cases who are left without justice.

“The issue is really unacceptable. The police officers that put their life on the line every day and the victims of these crimes deserve justice,” Ducey said.

Ducey added he called the line-level prosecutors in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office the "unsung heroes of our criminal justice system."

The governor was also asked if Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel should step down.

“I think leaders should take accountability for their actions and not blame people on their team,” Ducey said.

Romley said despite the support that he’s given Adel over the years, he thinks it’s time for her to step down.

“It is time for her to resign, to step aside,” Romley said. “It’s time to start rebuilding the office.”

It’s the office that Dillard wants to see changes in.

“It’s heartbreaking to know how many people this has caused to suffer the feelings that we felt,” Dillard said.

As for what she’d say to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office now, Dillard said it’s what they’ve been saying for the past few years:

“You have to do better before this entire county loses complete hope in every one of you,” Dillard said.

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