John Leonardo, the newly installed Arizona U.S. Attorney, has quite the job ahead of him.
The position has had six different leaders in six years. It’s at the center of the politically charged investigation of the botched gun-walking program Fast and Furious. And, as is common, the office could use some more resources.
In a Q&A with the Arizona Republic, the former Superior Court judge says he’s ready to tackle the difficult task ahead.
Leonardo called the rapid turnover in his office “unprecedented,” adding that he hopes bringing some consistency will stabilize the office. To combat the damage done to morale following Fast and Furious, the prosecutor said he wants to restore high standards.
“They certainly had them when I was a young lawyer, in an assistant U.S. attorney position,” he told the Arizona Republic. “I want to make sure that as new attorneys come on board … that they understand that that’s the hallmark of being an assistant U.S. attorney and we have to set an example for the rest of the community in that regard.”
Leonardo also addressed the ongoing probe of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office, which faces allegations of discrimination and human rights abuses against Latinos. He said he has recused himself from the ongoing probe because of a previous and unrelated ruling he made while serving as Pima County Superior Judge.
Also up for discussion was the long-running debate about federal enforcement of medical marijuana laws. Medical marijuana dispensaries have chafed with a number of U.S. Attorney’s offices, including in California and Oregon, as prosecutors have cracked down on what they believe to be fraudulent outposts. Medical marijuana advocates have accused the Justice Department of going against its word to leave legally mandated dispensaries alone, despite federal law that prohibits the sale of the drug.
Leonardo says he recognizes that complexity, which “creates anxiety, understandably.” He said his office will follow the department’s directive on the issue.
“We have a responsibility of enforcing and prosecuting cases that violate the Controlled Substances Act, that includes marijuana traffickers,” he told the paper. “We can’t prosecute every violation of that statute. And to focus our efforts on individuals who are in compliance with state law and may be using marijuana for medicinal purposes, including treating such serious diseases as cancer, would not be the likely and most efficient use of our resources.”