Christie Stanley, the first female District Attorney in the history of Santa Barbara County, died Sunday morning at her home after a long bout with lung cancer. She was 61.
She is survived by her husband Gary, her daughters Renee Edman and Dawn Wright, her stepchildren Mark Stanley, Ryan Stanley, and Tamy Millican, her mother Jeanette Claycamp, and her grandchildren.
Stanley served less than one full term as D.A. before retiring in January of this year. There were signs Stanley had been sick for most of her term in office, starting in late 2007. At a ceremony in March 2009 when State Senator Tony Strickland honored Stanley with his district’s Woman of the Year award, Stanley stayed seated the entire time and appeared weak. In October 2009, with Senior Deputy D.A. Joyce Dudley already announcing her intention to run against Stanley, Stanley announced she would not seek re-election, and instead endorsed Chief Trial Deputy Joshua Lynn. Not long after that, Stanley announced she was retiring.
Close friends and associates said Stanley always believed she would defeat the cancer and be able to return to work, even when it was clear the battle was enormous. Indeed, after a first round of treatments, it appeared Stanley prevailed over the cancer, but it returned in 2008 and she’d been fighting it ever since. “She leaves behind a strong legacy for prosecutors who strive to be as exceptional as she was inside and outside the courtroom,” said acting D.A. Ann Bramsen. “Her death is a tragic loss to the criminal justice system and the community. She will be sorely missed.”
Stanley graduated first in her class from the Ventura College of Law. From there she practiced private civil law for two years, and then joined the District Attorney’s office in 1980. One of the big reasons she got into law enforcement, she would often say, was when an uncle of hers was murdered in Kansas. She was constantly impressed by the actions of authorities who always did the right thing in that case, even when their choices weren’t popular with public opinion.
She worked in the D.A.’s office from then on to her retirement 30 years later. She was the first female prosecutor to work in the D.A.’s North County offices. In 1984, she was recognized as Deputy D.A. of the Year in 1984, and supervised the D.A.’s office in Lompoc. In 1991, she was appointed by then-D.A. Tom Sneddon to Assistant D.A. for North County. Bramsen said Stanley was a “dynamic, powerful woman who carried herself with poise, dignity, and grace.” Stanley prosecuted hundreds of cases in her time, including murders, rapes. and arson cases, and many domestic violence-related cases. “I felt when I retired she’d be there for quite awhile,” said Sneddon.
Indeed, Stanley had widespread support in the 2006 election, winning with an overwhelming 69 percent of the vote, despite the presence of two other candidates. But despite her great qualities and leadership, Stanley was never really able to enact her vision for the office because of her illness. “She was somebody who worked so hard to get to a position to be District Attorney,” Sneddon said. “And to get there and have to have this happen is a tragedy. It’s just hard to accept sometimes. It’s just not fair. She was a fine prosecutor and a good lady.”
She was present when she could be, and phoned in to speak to her management staff when she was not. “California’s judicial system has lost a tireless advocate for the victims of crime and upholding the laws of our society,” said Board of Supervisors chair Janet Wolf in a statement. “Christie’s dedication to serving the residents of Santa Barbara County for nearly 30 years has made her a role model for all who will follow in her footsteps of judicial public service.”
Both candidates to replace Stanley remembered her as a great prosecutor whose legacy will live on. “She was the calm in the middle of the storm,” said Lynn, who was promoted to Chief Trial Deputy by Stanley. “She was a part of building an office that always regarded the safety of the public, and her legacy will continue in that regard.”
Said Dudley in a statement: “My deepest sympathy to the Stanley family for their great loss. I began working with Christie in 1990 and I have always known her to be a tireless prosecutor and advocate for crime victims. Her legacy will live on through the hard working and dedicated people in the office of the District Attorney. She will be greatly missed.”
Sheriff Bill Brown also released a statement in Sunday, explaining that he was deeply saddened to lose a “dear friend and colleague, a woman of extraordinary strength and grace whose dedicated work as a prosecutor and leader in the D.A.’s office left a legacy of excellence, and has made Santa Barbara County a safer place.”
According to the D.A.’s office, arrangements for funeral services are pending.