Recent current events have made the post of Maricopa County Attorney more of a potential elected prize for Democrats than just one week ago.
On September 5, 2019, Governor Doug Ducey announced that he was appointing current Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to the Arizona Supreme Court.
With that announcement, the odds of Democrats taking the position from the Republicans increased with no conservative incumbent to run for reelection.
Four Democrats have declared their intent to win the office.
One of them is a candidate who has experience both working in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and as a defense attorney.
His name is Ryan Tait and he took the time to respond to questions regarding his qualifications and goals for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
The questions and his responses were below.
- Please tell the reader about yourself and give at least two reasons you are qualified to serve as the next Maricopa County Attorney?
“I was born and raised in a small town about 90 miles east of LA in San Bernardino County. My parents were schoolteachers and active in their church, where they taught me and my six siblings the value of service, both through their words and their examples.”
“I set my sites on becoming an attorney from a young age and, influenced by the Matlock episodes I watched regularly with my mom, always saw myself going into criminal law. I went to UCLA Law School with an eye toward criminal prosecution. My parents’ legacy of public service was one that I wanted to continue and prosecution seemed the best way to serve in ways that I hoped would make communities better and safer.”
“In my second year of law school, I was recruited by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office and began working there in 2006. Between then and 2012, I worked in the Pretrial Bureau, Juvenile Crimes Division, Community-based Prosecution Bureau (called “trial group” in those days), Auto Theft Bureau, and the Gangs Bureau.”
“I started my prosecuting career with an idealistic view of the criminal justice system that was a source of constant cognitive dissonance for me when compared to the reality that I saw. Rather than a commitment to being ministers of justice, I witnessed an office with policies seemed wholly designed to garner political support for the elected County Attorney, often through fear-mongering and driven primarily by an archaic view of human behavior. The policies I had to enforce as an employee frequently clashed with my own feelings regarding appropriate outcomes.”
“Where nearly everyone could agree that the safety of the community required that certain individuals be incarcerated, the net of prison as a consequence seemed clear to be cast far too wide. Rehabilitation seemed to be a concept that only existed in law school courses, and either ignored or completely misunderstood in practice. The culture of the office rewarded attorneys based on fealty to the elected official and support of his policies, rather than integrity, fairness, competence, and good judgment.”
“In order to feel better about my chosen career, I sought out research that supported the construct of prison solving the problem of crime to the extent we were using it. The deeper I dove, the more I discovered that the increasingly ubiquitous answer to criminal conduct was actually more like pouring fuel on a rapidly burning fire, most especially in cases of addiction. Seeing no way to effectuate meaningful change in an office that seemed to care too much only about defending erroneous traditions and protecting the power of the elected, decided I was better off fighting for justice and fairness for the accused, which I have been doing tirelessly since 2012.”
“Five overarching factors qualify me for this office.”
- “Experience in the office. I know the ins and the outs of the County Attorney’s Office. Having worked in that office, I understand the underpinnings of counterproductive policies, and I know the culture that supports them. I understand that it will take much more than mere policy changes to adequately repair the broken system. It will take leadership in someone who has been there and knows and understands the personalities and culture of the office and knows how to carry an effective message to them to effectuate change. I know how to change minds and hearts about criminal justice because I’ve experienced the change myself.”
- “Experience as a defense attorney. I’ve sat across the table from families who mourned the choices of their loved ones but struggled to make sense of a system that tends to propagate criminal behavior, rather than curb and reverse it. I know how the policies of the office affect communities and families in a unique way, having fought both for victims and the accused.”
- “Vision. I have been a student of criminal justice reform and have watched closely how reforms have played out in jurisdictions such as Utah, Louisiana, and Texas, to name a few. I’ve studied addiction, which is the root of a vast amount of criminal behavior and I understand what works and what doesn’t in fixing it, and what policies work, and what policies don’t.”
- “Experience running an organization. In four years, my law firm has grown from two attorneys with laptops, to an organization that has employed over a dozen staff and 9 attorneys. I’ve run a payroll, I’ve created a budget, I’ve found ways to stretch money to meet the needs of my employees and keep the lights on. I will be an experienced steward of taxpayer money. Having worked in the office, I know where to make a change with respect to how resources are allocated to trim government bureaucracy in favor of outcome-driven spending.”
- “Passion. This has been my life’s work. This isn’t a political opportunity for me. Frankly, I might prefer to spend more time with my beautiful family and keep growing my business but for the constant call to action, I feel from the duty to serve, instilled in me by my parents. This pursuit is the opportunity to restore truth and reason to a system that has lost its way, to take the lessons I’ve learned from hard-fought experience and research to an office that is desperately overdue for systemic change. My firsthand knowledge of the suffering caused by decades-long, politically-motivated misinformation campaign drives everything I am doing in my career and in seeking this office. This is my opportunity to play a role in making this world a better and fairer place in a county that desperately needs and deserves it.”
- Please tell the reader what are at least two duties of the Maricopa County Attorney?
“There are two overarching functions of the County Attorney. The first, and most well known, is the setting and implementation of policies that dictate the charging, plea and sentencing policies of the majority of criminal cases in Maricopa County. Because of mandatory sentencing laws in Arizona, this means that the prosecution essentially dictates the outcome of most cases. Contrary to popular belief, it is really the County Attorney that drives sentencing in Arizona more than the judge, a jury or a defense attorney. Accordingly, the County Attorney is the most important figure in impacting the incarceration rate in the State, and since Maricopa is by far the largest jurisdiction in the State, it is the primary driver of incarceration rates in the State. Under this same umbrella, the County Attorney has a powerful influence on whether diversion programs aimed to curb crime are implemented and whether or not those programs are effective.”
“The second important duty of the County Attorney is to serve as legal counsel for government agencies and officials in the county. The County Attorney is responsible for advising the Board of Supervisors on the legality of various policies and actions, and therefore, can have a tremendous impact on government policies in the county. Along the same lines, the County Attorney serves as a legal defense for actions taken against the County and its officials.”
“Third, the County Attorney is in charge of the allocation of resources in a 100 million dollar annual budget and the supervision of over 1000 employees. It is a massive government organization that requires effective and prudent leadership and vision.”
“Finally, as Bill Montgomery has shown, the County Attorney has become a powerful lobbyist in the State legislature and to the Governor. This has proven to be disastrous to the cause of reasonable reform and community safety under Bill Montgomery’s myopic views.”
- Please tell the reader at least two reasons you would be a better County Attorney than the current County Attorney?
“I truly believe that you cannot have a comprehensive view of criminal justice without having been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. The insights I have gained working on behalf of the accused are every bit as invaluable as those I learned as a felony prosecutor, and in many ways, more so. Nothing gives you greater insights into the effect of government policies than to be intimately involved in seeing them play out in the lives of families and individuals.”
“I have a commitment to creating a data-driven system built on reason, not tradition. For decades, research has raised grave concerns over the way we pursue criminal justice in Maricopa County and shed light on far more effective methods of protecting the community, curbing addiction and reducing crime. Many jurisdictions throughout the US have replaced the reliance on the tradition with a humble determination to get it right through reliance on data and research. Those efforts have been a resounding success across the country and created genuine moral authority where it was once a mere façade. Bill Montgomery has resisted such reasonable efforts at every turn.”
“The prior County Attorney valued loyalty to such a degree that he turned a blind eye to many incidents of misconduct in his own office. He has hidden behind the concept of “merit-protection” to avoid making the hard decisions that would signal to his employees that his highest priorities are integrity and providing a safe work environment. “
- If elected, what will be at least two goals you will have as Maricopa County Attorney?
“My primary goal will be to reduce crime and improve community safety through intelligent prosecution. This means reallocating tax dollars to focus prosecution on the violent and serious crimes that directly impact community safety. It means investing in rehabilitative efforts for the mentally ill and those convicted of non-violent crimes rather than lining the pockets of corporations who profit on human incarceration. Arizona can no longer afford to burden the taxpayer with an outdated, demonstrably erroneous way of responding to crime. Drug addiction would be treated primarily as a health concern, rather than a criminal concern. Diversion programs would be bolstered and improved to provide meaningful, proven intervention, and would become the norm for drug offenses, rather than prison. The current diversion program for drug offenses is woefully inadequate to deal with addiction and provide meaningful rehabilitation and would be replaced.”
“The current plea policy is almost exclusively based on the mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Prosecutors choose a plea based upon how big the hammer is that they hold over a defendant’s head. Plea policy under my administration would focus instead on ensuring just and intelligent outcomes, regardless of the size of the hammer. This would result in a dramatic increase in the number of offenders who pose little to no risk to community safety and show high prospects of rehabilitation being placed in treatment or on probation, rather than rushing them to prison. As it has done in other jurisdictions, it would produce net-savings to taxpayers, lower crime rates and higher conviction rates for violent offenses.”
“The second overarching goal would be to transform the culture of an office that is too steeped in traditional forms of punishment that modern academia has persuasively repudiated. Prosecutors would be encouraged and rewarded for practicing with integrity, transparency and good judgment, rather than conviction rates or securing harsh sentences. A conviction and sentencing integrity unit would be established to ensure that questionable convictions are revisited and overly harsh sentences are reduced. Prosecutors would be encouraged to focus on their role as ministers of justice, rather than competitors in an adversarial arena.”
“There would also be a concerted effort to end the deeply entrenched disparity of prosecution outcomes for minorities. Cash bail for misdemeanor offenses would be eliminated in all cases where there wasn’t a specific safety threat to individuals in the community. I would also seek to be an advocate for police agencies in developing programs to repair the strained relationship that currently exists in many places within the county. Agencies would be encouraged to implement early-intervention programs to assist officers (who are tasked with an enormously challenging job and deserve resources to help them maintain emotional health) and to set up civilian review boards.”
- What would you like the voters to know about yourself that was not covered in the preceding questions
“I and my sweetheart, Angela, are the parents to a beautiful baby boy, Henry Jackson Tait. I served a two-year mission for the LDS church in the Dakotas, where I spent a great amount of time serving the people of the Lakota tribe, particularly on the Pine Ridge reservation. I received a Bachelor’s Degree from BYU in Psychology and I’ve got a bit of an unhealthy addiction to Nacho Doritos!”
In order to undo the conservative and reactionary judicial maneuverings and positions of the Ducey Administration and the Montgomery tenure at the Maricopa County Attorney’s office, it is necessary to elect public servants who have a more forward and enlightened legal vision.
Ryan Tait is a candidate for Maricopa County Attorney that voters should consider when evaluating potential candidates to face the as yet undecided Republican Nominee in November 2020.