Meet Rachel Mitchell, The Attorney Who Will Question Kavanaugh Accuser

By Will Stone
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2018 - 11:06am
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2018 - 11:08am
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Maricopa County Attorney’s Office
Rachel Mitchell

A longtime prosecutor from Arizona will be asking the questions for Republicans on the committee at the Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow. Rachel Mitchell specializes in prosecuting sex crime cases for Maricopa County in the state. Will Stone of member station KJZZ in Phoenix reports.

WILL STONE: A devoted prosecutor, a formidable trial attorney and a mentor to many — those are some of the ways Rachel Mitchell's colleagues describe her. Mitchell has spent more than two decades with Maricopa County Attorney's Office, one of the country's largest public prosecutorial agencies serving more than 4 million people. There, she leads the Special Victims Division, handling cases involving sexual assault and child sex abuse, among other things.

ELIZABETH ORTIZ: She is very methodical. She's very calm. She's very logical.

STONE: That's Elizabeth Ortiz, a former deputy prosecutor for the county who has known Mitchell for years.

ORTIZ: She continues to keep that open mind and continually reassesses her evidence so that she keeps herself on that mission to do justice.

STONE: Ortiz says Mitchell gravitated toward prosecuting sex crimes because she knew it was important and difficult.

ORTIZ: She was willing to rise to the challenge of tackling some of the most emotionally charged cases that prosecutors deal with.

STONE: In the mid-2000s, she led the prosecution of a Catholic priest in Phoenix who had been accused of sexual abuse. He was eventually sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. More recently, she was responsible for implementing step-by-step protocols for sex crimes. Speaking to KJZZ about that earlier this year, she described the challenges of preventing such crimes.

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RACHEL MITCHELL: I mean, our goal right now is we know how these guys offend and to stop them, put them in a position where they can't get into that position to reoffend.

STONE: Mitchell lectures throughout the country, trains prosecutors and has been recognized for her work as a victim's advocate. Her old boss, former county attorney Rick Romley, describes her as a stellar prosecutor who he entrusted with some of the most high-profile cases and someone who knows the dynamics of sexual assault.

RICK ROMLEY: There there's a sympathy, you know, and an understanding as to the victims and the victimization that goes on here. And yet, she's going to be on the other side in essence challenging the credibility of Ms. Ford.

STONE: At the Senate hearing, Mitchell is expected to question Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, and may question the nominee himself. Mitchell is a registered Republican, but Romley says she has stayed out of the political arena. He doesn't expect fireworks from her at the hearing.

ROMLEY: I think she will be businesslike, and I think will probably be understated. Knowing her, she will not, you know, go off with the crazy rhetoric that sometimes happens when the glare of the cameras are on you.

STONE: But Romley says, frankly, he's concerned that she's headed into what he describes as a no-win situation, and he would have advised her against doing it. He says she's a prosecutor through and through.

ROMLEY: Undoubtedly, there are some Republicans that are going to say go for the jugular. And I don't think Rachel will do that. And in fact, you may see - it may backfire on the Republicans itself.

STONE: So the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, has said the goal is to depoliticize the process. And that's why they're calling on a career prosecutor recognized for her experience and objectivity. For NPR News, I'm Will Stone in Phoenix.

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