PHOENIX — The top five criminal prosecutors in Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel's office are urging her to resign, after taking the unprecedented step of launching an ethics investigation of their own boss.
In a single-spaced, four-page letter delivered to Adel on Monday, the criminal division chiefs chronicle a three-month period after her release from treatment for alcohol addiction.
The chiefs put Adel on notice at a meeting on Nov. 30. They were concerned Adel had been drinking after getting out of a treatment facility two months earlier.
"You assured us you had not and would not conduct official business while impaired," the letter says.
Despite some progress in the intervening months, the letter concludes:
"You told us you wanted to rebuild trust. You have done the exact opposite.
"We were hopeful you would change course after our November meeting. Unfortunately, things have gotten worse, not better. Your conduct has become a distraction that has taken ... days away from our daily work.
"On Nov. 30, 2021, we asked you to step up. You have either been unwilling or unable to do so. Therefore, we are asking you to step down, so that you and MCAO can finally begin the healing process."
Adel: 'No Plans to Resign'
A defiant Adel said in statement Tuesday that she had "no plans to resign":
“As has been reported in the media, five attorneys in my office have submitted a letter asking me to resign. While I respect their opinion, I vehemently disagree with the characterization of me in this letter and I have no plans to resign.
"I am honored to have been duly elected County Attorney and will continue to perform my duties as I was elected to do. In an office of over 1000 employees, it is not surprising that there are some who do not agree with every decision I make.
"I accept the current challenge with humility and will continue to do what I think is right and just for the citizens of this community.”
Office Conducts Ethics Probe On Adel
The prosecutors say employee policy allows them to investigate if there are ethical concerns with the county attorney.
"These concerns are escalating and we have no choice but to take action," the letter says.
The office had hired Scott Rhodes, a prominent Arizona ethics attorney, to consult last fall on Adel's conduct.
"You have previously mentioned the letter Scott Rhodes authored that indicated he did not have concerns with your ability to serve as county attorney," the letter says.
But the letter claims Adel "may have made significant misrepresentations" to Rhodes.
Letter Sent to State Bar, County Board
The letter was hand-delivered Monday to Maricopa County Board Chairman Bill Gates and to the Arizona State Bar, which is responsible for attorney discipline. 12 News reported on the letter's delivery on Monday.
The vote of no confidence by Adel's five criminal division heads marks the gravest threat to her leadership of the nation's third-largest prosecutorial offices.
The Republican county attorney is responsible for charging decisions that include whether to seek the death penalty against a defendant.
The next steps are up to Adel, now that she has lost the confidence of her top deputies.
Her four-year term ends in 2024.
A recall campaign that began last year has been slow to get off the ground.
County Board Getting Legal Advice
The Maricopa County Board doesn't have the authority to remove an elected officer.
But three years ago, the Board suspended County Assessor Paul Petersen for "neglect of duty" and then formally recommended that Adel seek to remove him from his elected office.
The Petersen case is being reviewed as the Board explores options in the standoff with Adel.
Board Chair Bill Gates said in a statement Tuesday that the board was seeking legal advice:
"My office is taking seriously the letter we received from five division chiefs at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office regarding County Attorney Adel.
"State law generally holds county elected officers accountable to voters, not to boards of supervisors, but we will seek outside legal counsel to ensure we fully understand our role in this matter.
"As a friend of Ms. Adel's, I am concerned for her health and well-being as she works on her sobriety; as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, I am committed to supporting County Attorney's Office staff and operations during this challenging time."
Office Beset By Challenges
The County Attorney's Office has been beset by challenges during Adel's almost four years of leadership.
Over the past two weeks, Adel's sobriety and command of her job have been called into question by her former communications director, a Republican former county attorney, and the Republican County Board chairman.
In response, Adel has asked for the public's patience as she deals with alcohol addiction and an eating disorder.
"I was elected by the people to do the job and we've made some significant strides and it's unfortunate that someone's personal recovery journey has to be so politicized," Adel told KTAR radio last week.
Adel told KTAR she is fit to continue leading the office.
"I am absolutely an alcoholic," she said. "That's why when I get myself into a situation where I'm concerned or even have a craving I immediately pick up the phone and call my sponsor, call my therapist."
In September 2021, Adel was forced to disclose she had been seeking treatment for two weeks for dependency anxiety, alcohol abuse and an eating disorder.
Adel went public after Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone learned she was in rehab without having alerted fellow county officials. He questioned how she could lead the office remotely.
Adel has also had to deal with personal health problems.
Adel was elected to a full-four year term in November 2020, after the County Board appointed her to the job in 2018 to fill a vacancy.
But on election night, Adel was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to treat a brain bleed. She returned to the office two months later.
On the prosecutorial side, the office has come under harsh scrutiny for its decision to charge 15 Black Lives Matter protesters with felonies. The charges were later dropped, and Adel now faces a defamation lawsuit by the prosecutor on the case.
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