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Gina Godbehere, Republican candidate for Maricopa County Attorney, speaking with attendees at a candidate forum hosted by the Arizona Legislative District 28 Republican Party at TYR Tactical in Peoria, Arizona, July 18, 2022. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Mitchell Draws a Republican Challenger

As GOP sours on incumbent, Gina Godbehere seeks to topple Maricopa County Attorney

By Ken Kurson, February 7, 2024 2:43 pm

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred imprecisely to the bills surrounding Kayleigh’s Law. The Globe regrets the error.

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell may finally be getting the robust primary challenge many in her own party have been hoping would emerge.

On Monday, Axios reporter Jeremy Duda tweeted that Gina Godbehere has filed papers to appear on the ballot challenging Mitchell in the GOP primary.

It is relatively rare for Republican DA to attract meaningful primary challengers, but Mitchell has fallen into disfavor with many in her own party for a variety of perceived and real instances of apostasy.

The central beef many have with Ms. Mitchell is her reluctance to pursue claims of voting irregularities in the state’s dominant county. Mitchell went so far as to seek sanctions against the 2022 nominee for governor, Kari Lake, and even unsuccessfully sought to impose sanctions against Lake and her counsel for their efforts to contest the results of that year’s razor thin election. Mitchell has also been less than forthcoming—some say less than forthright—in providing evidence that would help Abe Hamadeh prove that he was the actual winner in his own even-closer 2022 race for Attorney General.

One Republican activist who did not want to be named for risk of incurring the wrath of a powerful law enforcement figure told the Globe that many Republican activists—the kind who vote in primaries—are very disappointed with Mitchell, especially over failing to support Lake and Hamadeh in their challenges. “A lot of Republicans obviously dislike Rachel because not only does she withhold the evidence, in Abe’s case, she withheld the 9000 provisional ballot information from them. But she’s also been siding with Kris Mayes and Adrian Fontes against their election challenge. No other county is doing briefs, except Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.”

The activist is referring to the Arizona Attorney General and Secretary of State who Hamadeh has sued for declining to permit various challenges to his 280-vote loss to Mayes in November 2022.

Mitchell was formally censured by the Maricopa County Republican Committee Executive Guidance Committee for these missteps and the bad blood remains.

While a prosecutor ought to be expected to operate the office on a non-partisan basis, the perception that Mitchell goes especially hard after fellow Republicans has been hard to shake. Another inside baseball story paints a similar picture.

When Mitchell was elected in 2022, she hired Jennifer Liewer to be her Chief of Staff. Liewer had been the well-regarded Public Information Officer of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, and she adroitly navigated the messy turnover of the office when Allister Adel was forced to step down amid serious health problems and allegations of alcoholism and botched prosecutions. But Liewer is a Democrat and it’s hard for Republicans to understand why an elected Republican would place a Democrat in such a critical agenda-setting role.

In another burst of questionable decision making, Mitchell’s office was scolded by a federal appeals court for denying access to journalist Jordan Conradson specifically because of the perceived conservative politics of his employer, The Gateway Pundit and TGP Communications.

The county press office told Conradson, “[Y]ou are not a bona fide correspondent of repute in your profession” and cited his attendance at Republican events as evidence of his ineligibility.

Federal judge John J. Tuchi — an Obama appointee who has also ruled against Kari Lake’s efforts for relief— sided with Mitchell’s office. Still, this seemed like a textbook violation of the First Amendment, not only to Maricopa Republicans but to the left-leaning U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit issued a temporary injunction, which granted Conradson a press pass as the appeal was heard. Then, in a hearing before a three-judge panel on January 12, 2023, Judge Consuelo Callahan scolded Deputy County Attorney Charles Trullinger, telling him she had “some concern” over the way Mitchell instructed the office’s PR staff to handle press access. “Aren’t you in a position to say hey, you don’t understand the First Amendment here, you’re wrong and I’m not going to defend that position? Or do they just get to tell you to defend it, no matter what?”

All three judges—a Trump appointee, a Biden appointee and a Bush appointee—smacked Trullinger around during a contentious hearing that got worse for Mitchell’s office as it went on.

After the brutal questioning, the county board of supervisors unanimously opted to squirm out of the case by paying The Gateway Pundit a $175,000 settlement for violating Conradson’s First Amendment rights.

Despite this loss, Mitchell’s efforts to intimidate conservative journalists continued. On October 11, 2023, two journalists from Turning Point USA were involved in a confrontation with a professor named David Boyles at Arizona State University. Video of the incident appears to show that while the journalists may have been acting obnoxiously in aggressively questioning Boyles about hosting the “Drag Story Hour,” it was Boyles who threw the first punch. Nevertheless, Mitchell’s office has brought charges against Turning Point reporter Kalen D’Almeida and cameraman Braden Ellis for allegedly harassing and assaulting Boyles.

A national platform

Mitchell leads the fourth largest prosecutor’s office in America, a valuable platform for an office looking to make a statement as law and order issues take center stage in 2024. She became a national figure in Sept. 2018 when tapped by the Senate’s Nomination Investigative Counsel to question Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford. An experienced prosecutor of sex crimes, Mitchell’s slow, halting style of questioning was widely ridiculed by both sides, and eventually ended up as fodder for a devastating portrayal by Aidy Bryant on Saturday Night Live.

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell speaking with attendees at a candidate forum hosted by the Arizona Legislative District 28 Republican Party at TYR Tactical in Peoria, Arizona, July 18, 2022. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Mitchell’s reputation as an advocate for victims of sex crimes—perhaps her greatest strength—has also taken a hit.

As a child, Kayleigh Kozak survived awful sexual abuse. Rachel Mitchell was the prosecutor of her abuser and Kozak inspired the 2021 passage of Kayleigh’s Law, which gives victims lifetime protection from their abusers. Kozak appeared in commercials on behalf of Mitchell, bolstering the latter’s credentials as an advocate for victims of sexual misconduct. And then things changed.

Last session (2023) SB1253 passed with bi-partisan support. It required registered sex offenders with parental rights to notify their child’s school of their status. Hobbs vetoed the bill. Kozak told the Arizona Globe, “I was disgusted.” Kozak shared her outrage, tweeting that Katie Hobbs was “prioritizing pedophiles over innocent children.” Kozak told the Globe, “The next day I received a phone call from Rachel’s office.” Mitchell, who was in charge of Arizona Crime Victims Rights Week, rescinded her invitation to have Kozak deliver the keynote speech at the event.

Hobbs actually winded up signing different amendments to “Kayleigh’s Law” (sb1582).  But why would the Republican County Attorney throw a sex crime victim under the bus by rushing to the defense of the Democrat governor? To many, it smacks of uniparty BS and Kozak was unsparing in her reaction.

Kozak told the Globe today, “Rachel was NOWHERE to be found but then claimed on the news and publicly she was in support and working behind the scenes, which is a lie.” At the time, Kozak told Gateway Pundit, “As the prosecutor, [Mitchell] agreed to the plea deal that was six months in jail, and she never disclosed to my parents that he would not be on the DPS sex offender website …. My parents wanted him to have that public scrutiny, so they were under the impression that he would be on the DPS public registry and that he would never, ever, ever be able to get off his probation, and that’s why they agreed to that, when in reality that is not the case.”

In 2022, Mitchell was appointed to fill out the remainder of Adel’s term and later that year, she faced off against Godbehere in a primary for the GOP nomination. Godbehere, who had been the prosecutor in Goodyear, notched a respectable 42.5% against Mitchell’s 57%. It was a weak performance for an incumbent and it showed again in the general when Mitchell barely hung on against Democrat Julie Gunnigle, who came within 5 points of defeating Mitchell.

Mitchell’s weakness as a candidate was expected to draw serious challengers. Before he decided to run for Congress in CD8, Hamadeh himself, who had served as a prosecutor in Maricopa, had contemplated a run against Mitchell. Instead, she’ll now face a female candidate who can expect support from a variety of Republican constituencies Mitchell has managed to alienate.

Three emails sent to Ms. Mitchell’s office have not been returned. Godbehere’s spokeswoman confirmed to the Globe that she is running, but did not get a comment to the Globe in time for inclusion in this story. The Globe will update the story, if either candidate chooses to reply.

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