Former Mesa City Prosecutor Jon Eliason – who championed an effort to test a backlog of untested rape kits – is one of eight candidates seeking to fill the remainder of former Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s term.
Montgomery was recently appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Gov. Doug Ducey, creating an opening that will be filled by an election in 2020.
Eliason has extensive experience in several different facets of the criminal justice system and is the only candidate from the East Valley, but he also faces a strong field of candidates for the interim post.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will decide on a replacement after a seven-member committee was appointed by the board reviews the applicants and makes a recommendation by Oct. 1.
Eliason’s challengers include Rachel Mitchell, a longtime sex crimes prosecutor who was handpicked by Montgomery to serve as his chief deputy and to run the office until the board selects a replacement to serve out his term.
Mitchell was thrust into the national spotlight last year when she was chosen by the U.S Senate Judiciary Committee to cross-examine Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor who alleged that U.S Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had attempted to sexually assault her at a house party during the early 1980s.
Despite strenuous objections, Kavanaugh eventually was confirmed.
Other applicants squaring off against Mitchell and Eliason include former legislator John Kaites; former Corporation Commission and U.S. Senate candidate Rodney Glassman; longtime deputy County Attorney Gina Godbehere of Goodyear, CEO and co-founder of Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life; former deputy county attorney Allister Adel; Chris DeRose, a former assistant attorney general who served as interim Maricopa County clerk of courts; and Lacy Cooper, general crimes section chief for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix.
All candidates must be registered Republicans to qualify because Montgomery is a Republican.
Eliason served as Mesa City Prosecutor from 2012 to 2014, in between two different stints at the County Attorney’s Office. He supervised the County Attorney’s pre-trial unit in Mesa and later supervised two critical units in Phoenix: the Special Victims Division and the Major Offenders Division.
The pre-trial unit reviews police reports on felony cases to determine if there was sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. It also handled cases in eight county justice courts.
While Eliason has a broad background in criminal law, he has focused much of his career on domestic violence and sex crimes.
He also played an important role in the East Valley Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team, which examined the circumstances leading up to domestic violence-related slayings to learn more about how to avoid them.
In some cases, Eliason worked on the same projects as Mitchell, including the years-long effort using grants from other agencies to test rape kits, which collect DNA and other evidence vital in the prosecution of sexual assault.
The project brought justice to women who had been assaulted years ago and had long given up hope that their attacker would ever face charges.
The interim candidates all said on their application forms that they are willing to run for a full term in 2020 if they are selected as interim county attorney.
Mitchell said that she is planning to run for county attorney whether she is selected as interim or not.
Godbehere, who heads the County Attorney’s west region operations, said on her application form that she has been organizing an election campaign.
Godbehere’s Stand Up, Speak Up, Save a Life nonprofit sponsors a once-a-year conference focused on preventing teen suicide, drug abuse and other social problems that undermine the future of teenagers.