PHOENIX (AP) — The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has admitted to violating state public records laws and will pay $24,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and its Arizona affiliate.
The ACLU announced the settlement on Wednesday, saying there were illegal delays in fulfilling a records request it filed in 2018 that was ignored by the county’s then-top prosecutor. The lawsuit was filed in May 2019 when Bill Montgomery headed the office. Montgomery was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in September.
Current County Attorney Allister Adel said one of her first priorities upon being appointed last October was to address a backlog of records requests. She said in a statement that she directed the process be streamlined to process requests quickly. She said most requests are now handled in days or weeks rather than months.
Adel said she is committed to transparency and the settlement “demonstrates this commitment.”
The ACLU sought records showing who was being prosecuted, which crimes were charged and how long people are sent to prison. It also sought general office policies governing prosecutions.
The civil liberties group said in a news release that when it finally got the records, it showed that sentencing data “revealed stark racial disparities in the prosecution practices of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office” and insensitive training material mocking individuals with mental health conditions.
“These troubling findings would not have been made public without nearly two years of litigation against MCAO,” ACLU of Arizona staff attorney Jared Keenan said in a statement. “The public shouldn’t have to rely on lawsuits to learn what their elected officials are doing.”
Adel’s office issued a separate statement saying she “does not tolerate any environment where anyone would be judged or prosecuted based on their race, gender, ethnicity or physical or mental abilities. Under Allister Adel’s leadership, it is expected that this office will treat everyone in our community with respect and dignity.”