“These things that are on Julie’s platform are exactly the issues that need to be addressed.”
John Fabricius spent a total of 15 years in the Arizona prison system.
While incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, he said, he began to understand the importance of law and earned a degree in paralegal studies.
Now he’s campaigning for a Maricopa County attorney candidate he believes can prevent the atrocities he saw while locked up.
That candidate, he said, is Julie Gunnigle, a Democrat and Arizona native. Fabricius, who now works in information technology, has been volunteering for Gunnigle’s campaign for about six months.
Gunnigle is running on a platform of criminal justice reform, including ending cash bail, stopping prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses, and investing in mental health and substance abuse diversion programs.
“These things that are on Julie’s platform are exactly the issues that need to be addressed and need some change to have the systemic change downstream in our entire criminal justice system,” Fabricius told The Copper Courier.
He said he was experiencing substance abuse disorder while in prison but there were no resources at the time for receiving help, and he believes having Gunnigle in office would prevent that from happening to other people.
Fabricius also believes Gunnigle can change how law enforcement interacts with the community.
“Setting those priorities in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has an upstream effect too on what’s going on in the respective police departments,” he said. “And so when there’s not that cozy relationship anymore, there’s actual accountability, and the Brady List is being respected.”
Gunnigle has not sought endorsements or funding from any police-related organizations to avoid that conflict of interest. In contract, her Republican opponent Allister Adel has been endorsed by the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents Phoenix police officers.
Armando Nava, a criminal defense lawyer in the county, said keeping officers and citizens on the same level is important in the criminal justice system.
“[Gunnigle] wants to make sure that there isn’t a separate system for police officers and law enforcement than there is for the rest of us,” Nava told The Copper Courier.
While Adel has pushed for certain reforms in the office, like getting rid of a diversion program fee and prioritizing treatment for cases involving drug possession, criminal justice advocates have said these are not enough.
In the face of two high-profile cases of police officers fatally shooting citizens—Antonio Arce and Dion Johnson—Adel chose not to pursue any charges against the officers.
And Adel has praised her predecessor Bill Montgomery, who left office when he was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court, even though he has been accused of four ethics violations.
Gunnigle could start making changes to the office as early as November. This is because Adel was appointed to the seat 13 months ago, rather than elected. That means Gunnigle would take office as soon as the election results are certified, which should happen by the end of the month.
Nava pointed out that many of Gunnigle’s campaign promises could be put into effect very quickly.
“Anything that is up to discretion of the prosecution, which, there are many things that are, those can be day-one changes and those can take effect right away,” he said.
One of those actions Nava is excited about is ending cash bail.
“We shouldn’t have people who are innocent, presumed innocent in the Constitution, have to sit there just because they can’t afford to bail out,” he said. “It flips our presumption of innocence on its head.”
He is also supportive of Proposition 207, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona, and Gunnigle’s promise to adhere to the measure’s call for the expungement of marijuana records.
Gunnigle has said she would work to make a “universal and automatic” process for expungement. Adel told The Appeal she would enforce the law but did not say if she supports it and claimed it was not “retroactive” despite its section on expungement.
For Nava, the ideal Maricopa County attorney would not just make changes to the system but also simply treat people with respect.
He represents the family of Isidro Meza, a Buckeye man fatally shot outside his home in March.
Nava said it’s taken about seven months for the attorney’s office to set up a meeting with Nava and Meza’s family and review the case, a length of time Nava called “unusual.”
The family has been wondering why there has not yet been an arrest. Nava said Meza’s wife has often been left out of the law enforcement process.
“What we want is to feel like the process was fair and like they listened to Ms. Meza during that process,” he said, “and I think that Julie has shown that she will be that kind of prosecutor.”