Things couldn’t have gotten much sadder. Or nastier. District Attorney Christie Stanley finally retired from office, with almost a year left on her term, in paperwork filed last week, effective Friday, January 29. Her brief note to county officials acknowledged what has long been painfully obvious to anyone watching the courts: Ravaged by cancer, Stanley hadn’t really functioned as DA for more than a year.
This week, county officials received another missive from Stanley, this time a scorching denunciation of career prosecutor — and candidate for DA — Joyce Dudley. In it, Stanley blistered Dudley for what she described as Dudley’s “zealous ‘win at any cost’ approach.” Stanley accused Dudley of “multiple judicial misconduct problems,” adding, “Her problems with playing fair are repeated, well-known, and documented.” That note was mailed to the county via Josh Lynn, who is Dudley’s rival for the DA post.
Stanley’s unhappiness with Dudley surfaced when Dudley announced she was running for District Attorney, well before Stanley officially declared she wouldn’t seek reelection. Stanley returned the favor by endorsing Lynn, the department’s chief trial deputy, to be her successor. In addition, Stanley appointed Lynn to run the department in her absence, making him the de facto incumbent in what’s become a fierce two-way race between two very intense, competitive prosecutors. In perhaps her final communiqué, Stanley praised Lynn’s leadership, ethics, and dedication, arguing that the county supervisors should not replace him as acting District Attorney before this June’s election. Mostly, Stanley did not want the supervisors — two of whom have endorsed Dudley — appointing Dudley to the interim post.
This Tuesday, the supervisors unanimously opted to disregard Stanley’s last request. Sort of. At the instigation of Supervisor Joe Centeno, the board emphatically opted to remain out of the fray. The supervisors decided not to replace Stanley with either Lynn or Dudley. Instead, they elected to replace Stanley with the second-highest-ranking prosecutor in the department, Ann Bramsen, who operates out of the Santa Maria office. The supervisors also agreed to appoint whoever won the June election to fill out the remaining six months of Stanley’s term of office. Formally, the supervisors directed staff to bring back the issue of a Board appointment for acting DA in June.
For Dudley, who publicly stated she had no interest in being appointed, it was a clear victory. A Democratic candidate in a county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, Dudley will not have to run against a rival endowed with an incumbent’s considerable advantage. Lynn, in addressing the supervisors, made it sound as if he never wanted the post. “I never asked for, nor did I want, that appointment,” he stated. “I don’t believe it is fair. I don’t believe it is just.” Earlier that day, however, his campaign media advisor, Mark Ward — arguing that Lynn should retain his post as acting DA — said of Stanley, “This is the woman who appointed him acting District Attorney. There’s a reason she did that.”
That reason, according to Ward and Lynn, can be found in legal documents they released last week, highlighting a handful of cases in which, they contend, Dudley was faulted for excessive zeal. The most explosive involved a 1995 case against Amado Silva Inda, prosecuted and convicted for sexually abusing his teenage daughter. Judge Pat McMahon set aside the jury’s guilty verdict and ordered a new trial, citing multiple instances of prosecutorial excess. Concluding a 114-page legal brief, McMahon opined, “It is not pleasant to either recall or recount in print how [Dudley] fell so quickly from grace as she endeavored to overzealously obtain a conviction at any cost and without regard to rules of law, evidence, or ethical probity.” McMahon’s ruling was upheld by the state appellate court though not, Dudley insisted, on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. Dudley said she did not retry the case out of deference to the victim, who didn’t wish to endure the pain of a second hearing. Steve Balash, the defense attorney who represented Inda, said allegations of misconduct are commonplace in criminal law. “It was a very emotional trial,” he recalled, “but I wouldn’t call what she did outrageous.” If Dudley was out of line, Balash asked, “Why the hell did she keep getting assigned cases and getting promotions all these years? And if the DA thought they had a rogue prosecutor guilty of misconduct, why the hell did they appeal McMahon’s ruling?”
For the prosecutors working for the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office, the current political knuckle-fest is something entirely alien. For the past 30 years, the Santa Barbara DA’s Office has been immune from this sort of internal brawling. At Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting, many prosecutors waited for hours to testify. Both candidates had their champions present. Dudley supporters Hilary Dozer and Ron Zonen, with 59 years of prosecutorial experience between them, blasted Lynn for putting the department at risk by his “unfounded” attack on Dudley. “I had hoped for a campaign free of unnecessary vituperation,” lamented Zonen.
As for Dudley, she insisted that Stanley never wrote the letter the supervisors received. “I don’t know who wrote it,” she said. “but I’m certain she didn’t.” That wasn’t Stanley’s view of the Inda case, Dudley said. And besides, Dudley claimed, Stanley was too sick. Lynn’s campaign manager Mark Ward insisted that Stanley was the author, but that she wrote it “several weeks ago,” just in case it appeared the supervisors might appoint Dudley acting District Attorney.