In hiring Arizona lawyer Rachel Mitchell to question Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Thursday, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have eschewed Washington’s deep bench of white-collar lawyers for a veteran sex-crimes prosecutor far removed from the Beltway.
Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Tuesday night confirmed the selection of Mitchell to question Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused the appeals court judge of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were teenagers in the 1980s.
Mitchell, a sex-crimes prosecutor in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, will join another Arizonan Thursday: Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee whose crucial vote is still up in the air.
Mitchell is “on leave” from her roles as deputy county attorney and head of the office’s special victims division while she works for the committee, Grassley said.
Ford’s lawyers had opposed the committee’s desire to hire outside counsel. “This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate. Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial,” Michael Bromwich, a lawyer for Ford, said in a letter Monday to Grassley. “The goal should be to develop the relevant facts, not try a case.”
An ‘Objective Prosecutor,’ One-Time Judicial Candidate
A prosecutor since 1993, Mitchell directs an office that focus on sex crimes and domestic violence. She also previously headed a unit within the special victim’s division, which prosecuted sexual abuse of children and adults, child pornography and prostitution, and more.
In a statement to the Arizona Republic, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery praised Mitchell as a “professional, fair, objective prosecutor” who has a “caring heart” for victims.
Earlier this year, in an interview with an Arizona radio station, Mitchell spoke about a protocol manual that Montgomery’s office rolled out in 2017 outlining the “best practices” for sex assault investigations within the county. The manual also advises law enforcement and prosecutors on how to test and investigate sex assault cases.
Maricopa County in the past faced scrutiny over the handling of sex-crime investigations. In 2011, reports surfaced that the county’s top law enforcement official, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, had neglected hundreds of sex-crime cases between 2005 and 2007.
Mitchell has provided training to investigators and child protection and social workers on how to work with victimized children in sex abuse cases.
Mitchell was once a nominee to be a judge. In 2014, then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer considered Mitchell, a Republican, for an open seat on the Maricopa County Superior Court.
According to the Arizona Bar Association’s website, she attended Arizona State University, and was admitted to the bar in 1992.
Mitchell on Prosecuting Sex Crimes
In a 2011 interview, Mitchell said her career prosecuting sex crimes began before she was even admitted to the Arizona bar. While awaiting her bar exam results, she served as a law clerk in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and paired up with the head of the sex-crimes bureau during its prosecution of a youth choir director.
“It was different than anything that I would have ever imagined it being. It intrigued me, and I continued to do other work with that bureau chief,” Mitchell said. “It struck me how innocent and vulnerable the victims of these cases really were. When I became an attorney with the office I prosecuted other kinds of cases, but I was drawn back to this area.”
In the interview, which was printed by an online publication affiliated with a religious group, Mitchell also highlighted her office’s efforts to raise awareness of Arizona’s law requiring schools and churches to report suspected sexual abuse. She highlighted statistics showing that a majority of victims are sexually abused by people they know, saying the “largest misconception is that ‘stranger danger’ is the rule rather than the fairly rare exception.”
In the buildup to Thursday’s hearing, Kavanaugh supporters have noted that Blasey Ford’s allegations date back to the 1980s. President Donald Trump this week took to Twitter to question her claims, writing that if the alleged attack “was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities.”
In a comment that could be notable for the upcoming hearing, Mitchell has said that children wait years in many cases before revealing past sexual abuse.
“People think that children would tell right away and that they would tell everything that happened to them. In reality children often keep this secret for years, sometimes into their adulthood, sometimes forever,” Mitchell said in the November 2011 interview. “And they may or they may not tell everything. They may partially disclose to see how people are going to react to them.”