A field of three candidates for the Maricopa County Attorney’s post features a former county attorney, a former deputy county attorney and the Libertarian attorney who will face one of them in the November general election.
Among Republicans, interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, who held the job for 14 years from 1989 to 2004, wants the post back, and Deputy County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he’s ready to lead the office after serving as a prosecutor for about five years, with two stints in the county attorney’s office. Representing Libertarians is attorney Michael Kielsky, who vows to reduce bureaucracy.
Just as in the 2008 election for county attorney won by Republican Andrew Thomas, who resigned to run for attorney general, the hot-button issues are illegal immigration, which now is prosecutable under SB 1070, and the employer sanctions law. And with the recession’s impact on the economy, there is new focus on doing more with less and the need to crack down on white-collar criminals and those who commit fraud during economic hard times.
But all candidates believe the priorities of the office need to change, relationships and trust need to be restored and the focus needs to be on violent offenders.
“The No. 1 priority has to be public safety,” Romley said. “Organized criminal activity from across the border strengthening its foothold is one of the biggest changes since I last had the job. It is exerting its influence into Arizona, which is causing great concern.”
Working both sides of prosecution and prevention is important, Romley said, and working closely with neighborhood groups is something he said he would like to do.
As crimes from illegal immigration fuel debate, Romley and Montgomery differ on SB 1070, the law that makes it a crime to be living in Arizona illegally. Romley said he tried to tell Gov. Jan Brewer it was legally flawed before she signed it, but said he would enforce it.
Montgomery sees SB 1070 as another tool in law enforcement’s arsenal to crack down on illegal immigration. Employer sanctions will help, he said.
“We must remain vigilant and take into account that the problems associated with crimes committed by illegal immigrants need to be addressed,” Montgomery said.
As far as SB 1070 and employer sanctions, Romley believes the debate is over, but said he will enforce SB 1070 when the charges of offenders reach the level of offenses his office handles — felonies as opposed to misdemeanors. Under SB 1070, it is a crime for noncitizens to be in Arizona without the required documents.
Romley also said he would pool funds for whichever law enforcement agencies want to conduct raids when enforcing the employer sanctions law, something Thomas relied on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to do.
Romley dropped Thomas’ policy of charging people smuggled into the state as conspirators in their own smuggling, something Montgomery said he would do.
What a difference nearly a decade makes for Romley when it comes to the violent crimes.
Romley told the Tribune he plans to revive the organized crime division focusing on drug cartels and human, drug and gun smuggling, white-collar crimes and major gang activity. He also said he plans to have a review committee revisit all of the ongoing death-penalty cases in the Maricopa County Superior Court to determine which ones should continue to be prosecuted and fit the criteria for a death penalty case.
He also said he will keep a balanced budget in the office that works with a $65 million annual budget and 850 employees.
After dealing heavily with repeat offenders during his early time spent working in the county attorney’s office, Montgomery said he plans to beef up child protection cases, including Internet sting operations, and elder abuse and other crimes against the senior population.
On the death penalty, Montgomery said it is an appropriate punishment when it is beyond reasonable doubt that there are aggravating factors in taking an innocent person’s life.
While working under Romley, Montgomery prosecuted crimes such as felony DUIs, manslaughter and aggravated assault. His other assignments have included prosecuting repeat offenders and gang members. Montgomery, who resigned earlier this year soon after Romley returned to the job, last was the head of the auto theft division.
In addition to being endorsed by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Montgomery also is endorsed by Rep. Trent Franks, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, 11 state legislators, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association and Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane.
Kielsky, a 31-year resident of Arizona who lives in Scottsdale, said in campaign literature that if elected, he would make sure no more funds are allocated for victimless crimes. Kielsky opposes SB 1070, contending that is a poorly thought-out law, and that it pursues media headlines instead of pursuing violent offenders, and does not fully support the death penalty, citing errors on the justice system while implementing it. He did not return calls seeking comment.