County Attorney Debate Fireworks, Brought To You By Norml

Maricopa County Attorney Debate

The monthly Arizona Norml meeting was virtually held on May 5th, 2020. This month, the State Director of Norml, Mikel Weisser, and his team, hosted a debate for one of the most sought-after political seats in Maricopa County. The seat, of course, is none other than Maricopa County Attorney. The County Attorney is one of the most coveted roles, because that person decides which cases will be prosecuted and which ones will not. This sets an important tone that law enforcement follows when arresting people.

The position of County Attorney of Maricopa County is currently held by Allister Adel. She took the position when Bill Montgomery became a justice of the Supreme Court of Arizona on September 6th, 2019. Montgomery held to his belief that cannabis is more of a drug than a medicine, as evidenced here in an article in The Phoenix New Times. This case is just one example of his biased prosecution of cannabis patients, among others.

County Attorney History

Back before Montgomery took office, there was Andrew Thomas. Thomas also held a firm anti- cannabis platform, which was more than likely adopted by Montgomery. In April 2012, the Arizona Supreme Court appointed a three member disciplinary panel that disbarred not only Thomas, but also his former deputy, Lisa Aubuchon. In addition, another Former Deputy County Attorney Rachel Alexander’s law license was suspended for six months. A sticky situation such as disbarment is never a simple matter; for further information, refer to this article from The Phoenix New Times.

Potential County Attorney candidates

Nonetheless, a freshly shaven Mikel Weisser pointed out at Norml’s meeting on Tuesday that, because of reasons listed above, and since Maricopa County is the “3rd largest prosecuting office in the nations,” he thought it was of utmost importance to host this debate. Mikel also states that he has reached out to all of the potential County Attorney candidates. However, with Allister Adel, “nothing happened.” Regardless, Julie Gunnigle, Will Knight, and Bob Mcwhirter did respond and to corral them all required the touch of none other than Tom Dean.

Also known as “Dismissal Dean“, he is the State Attorney for Norml, member of the Arizona Cannabis Bar Association, and one of the leading defense attorneys when it comes to cannabis related cases.

As expected, when it comes to a debate with lawyers, it wasn’t even 20 minutes into the meeting until the interrogation and mudslinging started. One would think that a simple question of an introduction would not lead to calling integrity and ethics into question so soon.


However, Dean quickly steered the focus of the group of attorneys attention back on track each time things derailed. By the end of the 1 hour and 44 minute meeting, we learned that each of the candidates have the same stance relating to cannabis convictions: they are not making the world a better place. All the candidates also agreed that the criminal justice system needs reform.

Despite the same stance on many key issues, they all vary in background, back stories, and years of experience.

Julie Gunnigle is an Arizona native with a degree in chemistry from Northern Arizona University. She also has a law degree from Notre Dame. She has 14 years of legal experience, most of which comes from her time spent in Chicago where she prosecuted politicians who had stolen from public funds.

Will Knight has had his fair share of the legal system. His family grew up with ties to drug cartels, and the last time he saw his father was when he was 4, at which time his father went to prison. He was kicked out of public school and went to a last chance high school. Then after graduating high school, while out celebrating, he was arrested for underage drinking. Knight thinks of it as “a defining moment” in his life. He goes on to elaborate, saying he was, “scared that [he] would end up like his father, [he] decided to become a success story and own [his] past mistakes.” He worked with the team that sued Governor Jan Brewer, and acted as a counselor to many dispensaries in the beginning years of the AMMA.

Bob Mcwhirter has 30 years of experience; during that time, he aided in the disbarment of former Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas. Although most of his time spent on the feed was spent picking apart other candidates, one should point out that it’s part of the job. Yes, having a fair and just County Attorney is important, but we also need one that is tough and picks apart rapists, murderers, etc. Bob definitely gave the debate a taste of his behavior in the courtroom.

What did others think?

From the comments on Norml’s live Facebook feed, it appears that Julie Gunnigle captured most of the cannabis community’s hearts. With many comments from viewers praising her. Such as…

Julie Gunnigle sitting patiently staying out of the fray well done. Let them go after each other while she talks about the issues. Routing for Gunnigle 2020 tonight.

Clear, articulate, knowledgeable and yes, COMPASSIONATE! PROVIDING OPPORTUNITY FOR TREATMENT, MEANS MORE JOBS FOR AZ! Loving on nominee Julie Gunnigle!

Norml Viewer Comment

Will Knight had his fair share of support, with many commenting and defending him when Bob attacked with mud saying:

“Yes— Will talking about our need for a comprehensive decarceration plan and the need for MCAO to flex their civil litigation muscles.”

Norml Viewer Comment

So during the Democratic debate, we’re discussing a misdemeanor conviction from when Will was 18? How can Bob pretend to be serious about obstacles to reentry or about second chances? How can we trust him to view everyone going through this system as human beings if this is how he treats his opponents?

Norml Viewer Comment

But, what about Bob? Well, it seems that his debate style was frowned upon by the viewers.

Wow! Really disappointed to hear from Bob that he would bring up an offense that happened in someone’s past like that. It furthermore sounds like he didn’t have his facts straight. We don’t need anyone in that office that will sensationalize and exaggerate charges.

Norml Viewer Comment

For Bob— how can we trust that you’ll be an advocate for people re-entering society, and address the obstacles and shame they face, when you just tried to hold a decades-old conviction against Will?

Norml Viewer Comment

Learn for yourself

Don’t just take our word on it! Research the candidates; watch the video and decide for yourself who deserves your support!

Huge shout-out to Arizona Norml for hosting this debate for the community. We’d also like to thank Tom Dean (who appeared to be enjoying himself) for keeping a round-robin debate among three lawyers in line!

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