It took 8 years, but this woman's voice brought a powerful Arizona attorney to justice

  • In US
  • 2023-02-08 15:30:53Z
  • By AZCentral | The Arizona Republic
Arizona attorney Edward Maldonado faces prison after conviction in a sexual assault and abuse case.
Arizona attorney Edward Maldonado faces prison after conviction in a sexual assault and abuse case.  

Ilya Smith said the sexual assault stripped away much of what she believed about herself.

She saw herself as strong and independent, a Phoenix attorney who had worked hard to establish her credentials. Another attorney robbed her of that confidence during a short ride in the back seat of a moving car in 2014.

When he assaulted her, he took away her voice, she said.

A jury on Feb. 1 convicted lawyer Edward Maldonado of sexual assault and sexual abuse for his attack on Smith. But for her, the verdict was as much about being believed as it was about his guilt.

After eight years, a stalled investigation and two trials, a jury publicly announced that it believed her. The denials, the gaslighting, the accusations that she had made it all up, shattered in a single word: guilty.

Maldonado was no longer a goliath. The Phoenix power broker who had once been president of Los Abogados, Arizona's Hispanic Bar Association, faced a reckoning in the very courthouse where he once held sway as a deputy county attorney.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled in March, and he could receive more than 12 years in prison.

"I did my part. The jury did their part. It's up to the judge now," Smith told The Arizona Republic.

Smith wouldn't say if she believes Maldonado should go to prison, but she does want him to register as a sex offender. It's necessary to prevent him from preying on other women, she said.

Read the story:Once-powerful Arizona attorney faces prison in sexual assault, abuse case

At least three other women have come forward with harassment allegations against Maldonado over encounters they said occurred between 2012 and 2017. Maldonado, as part of a settlement with the State Bar in 2018, admitted to two of the allegations

Smith said she is concerned more women were victimized, including law students who met Maldonado through his work at Los Abogados.

Smith said she used to think about the effect her case would have on Maldonado's wife and children. But she had to push those thoughts aside.

"I initially felt for his family," she said. "But I can't have feelings like that anymore."

Neither Maldonado nor his attorney responded to interview requests. During the trial, Maldonado denied ever putting his hands on Smith.

He said she and other witnesses made the whole thing up; they conspired to take him down. And he said the Maricopa County Attorney's Office was a willing ally, with prosecutors seeking to settle differences from when he was employed there in 2006.

Smith said she still has trouble believing what Maldonado did to her.

It was supposed to be a fun night. She had met up with friends at The Rock Bar in Phoenix's Melrose District for a night of karaoke.

In her late 30s, Smith was general counsel for the now-defunct Arizona Summit Law School, a position that afforded her prestige and a sense of power. She was going through a divorce and was usually at home with her three kids, all under age 5.

She was there to unwind, to sing songs. Maldonado was a friend of a friend. Smith said she didn't invite him and she certainly wasn't looking for any kind of hookup. She said she knew him as an acquaintance who moved in the same professional circles.

Maldonado had made her uncomfortable in the past with "sexually aggressive" and suggestive remarks, Smith said.

"He gave me the heebie-jeebies, frankly," she said. "I was not happy he was there."

If Maldonado was put off by her discomfort, Smith said he didn't show it. He talked her up with "sexual, unwelcome comments." Smith decided to avoid him.

And as the drinks flowed, Smith said she allowed herself to relax. At some point she said she felt someone pulling on her arm, leading her outside the bar to a car parked directly at the entrance. Before she knew what was happening, Smith said Maldonado was pulling her into the back seat.

"He moved me, not in a kind of forceful way. I think I used the word 'ushered' in court," she said. "He was trying to kiss me, put his hands under my shirt, under my bra."

Smith said she was fighting off this attack when three colleagues climbed into the car, including an attorney named Terese Brown who got in the back seat with them. Smith said she thought the worst was over.

She didn't know where they were going, but no sooner was the car in gear than Maldonado was putting his hands on her.

"During the car ride, he proceeded to kiss me. He put his hands under my pants," she said, describing how his fingers slid under her waistband. "In the moving car ... he was putting his fingers inside me. ... I swiped at him, I fought."

She said with his mouth pushing against her, she tried to find her voice, to stop him, to say "no." She's not certain what sound came out.

"I remember my energy was fighting and swiping," Smith said. "I don't remember if I said anything, but someone at the trial testified that I did."

She said the driver pulled into a convenience store and got out. Smith said she wasn't sure if anyone up front knew what was going on, but Brown did. She "grabbed me out of the car" and switched places, sitting between Smith and Maldonado.

Smith said she was disoriented, couldn't find her phone and didn't know exactly where she was. The driver returned to the car and headed to another bar. When they got there, Maldonado quietly exited the vehicle and walked away.

"I was in shock, extreme confusion, about how something like this could happen while other people were around," she said. "I asked other people later if they knew what had happened."

She wanted to know if they had heard her.

"How come I couldn't say anything when I use my voice to advocate for others for a living?" she said.

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673,

Robert Anglen is an investigative reporter for The Republic. Reach him at or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Female attorney's fight to be heard in Arizona sexual assault case


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