Democrats in Maricopa County have an embarrassment of riches among their five candidates for County Attorney.
Will Knight is one of those candidates.
An attorney and educator with many years of experience, Mr. Knight wants to create a modern inclusive culture and community-oriented criminal justice mindset at the County Attorney’s office.
He sat down at Lolas Café to discuss his qualifications and what he would do as the next Maricopa County Attorney.
The questions and his responses are 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 am a Colombian Immigrant and American citizen. My father was an American who flew for the cartels who got into debt and they kidnapped my family. I grew up in Georgia. My mother worked multiple jobs to support us. My father came back, but he ended up in the drug trade again and ended up getting caught, convicted, and sentenced to federal prison. I never saw him again after that.”
“My experiences steered me towards studying criminal justice with the plan of being a prosecutor. ASU had really had a great clinical program, called the Truman Young Fellowship program. I went to ASU and worked so hard to get that fellowship that graduated second in law class. I worked in the County Attorney, the Arizona Attorney General, and the U.S. Attorney offices. I have published several articles on prosecutorial ethics, before and after I encountered a the hyper-adversarial, us vs. them culture at the County Attorney’s office.”
“I went into private practice and excelled. I also wanted to do more service work. I worked on the marriage equality litigation, civil rights, and took pro bono assignments from the Arizona Justice Project, helping exonerate people who had been wrongly convicted. In the Maricopa County Public Defender’s office, I worked in the Major Fraud division, which was the best job I ever had. I have served on the board of Los Abogados and the Hispanic National Bar Association, I’m an adjunct professor at my alma mater, ASU Law, and I sit on the Commissions on Minorities in the Judiciary and Access to Justice.”
“I have the total package (to be the next Maricopa County Attorney) to cut through the noise and deliver a win for real justice reform.
Mr. Knight cited three reasons he was best suited to be the next Maricopa County Attorney. They are:
- His contention that he is the best lawyer in the race with the most relevant professional and educational experience with solid academic, ethics scholarship, felony prosecution, indigent defense, civil rights, and civil litigation experience.
- His experience as a victim of a crime and seeing a family member in jail. Knight believes that “people closet to the pain should be closest to the power.”
- His community and government administration leadership experience.
Please tell the reader what are at least two of the most important duties of the Maricopa County Attorney?
- “The County Attorney is the Chief Justice Enforcement Officer where they represent the people and the entire community, not just one voice or stakeholder.”
- “Making human and financial resources a priority. We need to move to a just, result-based conception of prosecutorial justice. We are the most punitive county in the most incarcerated country in history, paying over $25,000 per prisoner per year (more than what is paid per student). People are going to prison for non-violent, non-dangerous offenses. Sending people to prison for shoplifting $5.00 worth of potato chips at a taxpayer cost of $25,000 per year without providing for reentry into society is foolhardy. Imagine what could we do with that $400 million instead of putting nonviolent people in prison.”
- “Setting a cultural tone at the office focusing on ethics, integrity and representing the client. You need a leader with a vision to convey that.”
- “Providing good civil advice to supervisors and county agencies. Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone needs a good civil lawyer. We need to take affirmative measures to prevent future lawsuits and make the system better.”
Please tell the reader at least two reasons you would be a better County Attorney than the current County Attorney?
- “The current interim appointee (Allister Adel) says nice things and has implemented some things on paper like about settlement policy, but no one is going to take advantage of it without a cultural change. We should staff up to fit the harm and just-result philosophy, we shouldn’t deviate down. We need to change the culture of the ‘tough-on-crime,’ mass incarceration era.”
- “Allister Adel is actively interfering with the rights of criminal defendants to prohibit defense counsel from reaching out to jurors after the trial. That hinders lawyers from finding due process errors and facts to prove the innocence of the client. It is a solution looking for a problem, and the only thing more un-American than convicting innocent people is making it harder to exonerate them.”
- “I will not use the position to advance a personal political agenda. I’m doing this for the community because I’m a personally impacted individual.”
If elected, what will be at least two goals you will have as Maricopa County Attorney?
- “End mass incarceration: Maricopa County has the longest average sentence of all the counties in the state. Need to reform the money bail system in the courts and at the legislature. Ending mass incarceration will make us safer. School and economic opportunity actually reduce crime better rather than mass incarceration. I am committed to smart and real justice reform that will increase economic opportunity.”
- “Hold government accountable: police relationships with the black and Hispanic communities are extremely fractured (especially with SB 1070). Repairing relationships is a priority and bringing all community stakeholders together to eliminate as much bias as possible is important. We should redact people’s names when we do background investigations and make charging decisions, and we should independently investigate incidents of law enforcement violence. If you put a map of communities of color in Maricopa County on top of a map of communities where we are spending over $1 million per year on imprisoning people, the maps are nearly identical.”
- “Have wide transparency and access: The state has an obligation to disclose any evidence that is exculpatory, such as law enforcement disciplinary actions. The lists are kept secret. Those need to be transparent. We will need to create an avenue for them to get off the list where they earn their trust back. Also, we should handle public records requests better and be more visible with those.”
What else would you like the voters to know about you?
“I am a human being. I like carpentry and am a comic book and sci-fi fan. I am married with two pets and live with my mother in law.”
“I am not doing this to be a politician.”
To view Knight discussing the issues with the other Democratic candidates for Maricopa County Attorney, please click here to see the video of all of them appearing at a forum sponsored by the Humanists of Greater Phoenix and the ACLU.
Moving forward, Mr. Knight has a team of up to 25 full and part-time staff and many volunteers to help steer him towards the August Primary. He is a candidate voters should consider when making a decision on who to support in August 2020.