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District Attorney: Joyce Dudley


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Voters confront a choice between two accomplished, compelling, yet troubling candidates in the race for District Attorney — Joyce Dudley and Josh Lynn — both successful and charismatic career prosecutors. To an exceptional degree, the staff at The Independent has been torn over this endorsement. Likewise, people who are in a position to know these candidates best — their colleagues in the DA’s office, members of the criminal defense bar, and even officers of the court from the bottom to the top — are divided over their relative strengths and shortcomings. Supporters and detractors defy easy categorization and have provided sincere, passionate, and insightful testimonial. But given the major challenges ahead, we have concluded that Joyce Dudley — on balance — would provide the experience, direction, passion, and leadership that would best serve that office and the Santa Barbara community.

Joyce Dudley
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman (file)

Joyce Dudley

That there’s a race at all stems from the paralyzing illness that recently claimed the life of Christie Stanley, elected DA nearly four years ago, the first woman in county history to assume the post. What kind of DA Stanley might have become we’ll never know. Early in her tenure, Stanley was diagnosed with lung cancer. For obvious reasons, Stanley’s health struggles enormously distracted her from her obligations and responsibilities as the county’s single most powerful law enforcement official. In her absence, there was no leadership. Communication was minimal to nonexistent. Stanley’s husband inserted himself into the affairs of the department to a degree that many felt was inappropriate and downright bizarre. A few efforts to persuade Stanley to resign fell on deaf ears. She would get better; she would return. Of this, she was certain. The office suffered, mostly in silence.

Into this void stepped Joyce Dudley, a fearless, brash, media-savvy prosecutor who cut her professional teeth prosecuting sexual assault and child abuse cases at a time when many in law enforcement were reluctant to take such offenses as seriously as they do now. Last year, Dudley notified Stanley that she planned to run for her job. At that time, Stanley had not decided whether she would run again. She had not retired. Stanley and many of her friends and supporters within the office — Josh Lynn chief among them — were offended by what they regarded as callous effrontery on Dudley’s part. We certainly understand that reaction. But we’re convinced Dudley acted with courage and sincere concern for the future of the office. It was the right thing to do. Stanley should have stepped down. But we question whether Dudley went about it the right way. We can’t help but think Dudley could have better deployed her considerable political skill to minimize the emotional fallout inevitable in so volatile a situation. Courage untempered by sensitivity can be a reckless virtue.

Offended into action by Dudley’s announcement was Josh Lynn, a rising star within the office. Tough, smart, and forceful, Lynn was backed by Stanley herself. He was also endorsed by former DA Tom Sneddon and his assistant Patrick McKinley, who more than any single person, imbued that office with the stability, professionalism, and esprit de corps it’s enjoyed for nearly 30 years. In person, Lynn is thoughtful, articulate, and candid. But we are troubled by the glaring disconnect between the man and the negativity of his political campaign. Too much of this effort was spent attacking Dudley, too little on his own accomplishments. Politics, we understand, is not for sissies. But even by this standard, Lynn’s ads bent the truth too far in a race for an office that requires the highest level of ethics and integrity.

Joyce Dudley has run a clean campaign, emphasizing her 20 years as a Santa Barbara prosecutor who has won a 98-percent conviction rate in more than 50 jury trials and her deep involvement in the community, where she has won numerous awards. She is well-known as a crusader for victims’ rights. Before earning her law degree, Dudley, who has a master’s of education and administration, served as director of the county’s Head Start program, as well as another child development program for the tri-county area. This considerable administrative experience will help her with the difficulties of running a large department in a difficult time.

We were concerned, however, when Dudley, during several public forums, refused to state that she would not fire Lynn were she to win. This did nothing to calm the waters within the department and suggested that she might seek revenge after this bitter campaign. We hope that these are needless worries and that Dudley will do everything in her power to unite the department.

Whoever wins this election must take over an office polarized by the election itself, threatened with unprecedented budget challenges and overwhelmed by a system of criminal justice that is no longer sustainable, economically, physically, or morally. The state lacks the resources to keep locking up lawbreakers. The governor is threatening to remand all nonviolent offenders now in state custody to the 58 counties for incarceration. But county facilities are already jammed well past the breaking point. New approaches are mandatory, not just advisable.

In this context, we believe the next District Attorney needs to bring to the post an innovative spirit and an ability to collaborate creatively with community groups — as well as other law enforcement agencies — far beyond what the office has traditionally demanded. Given Dudley’s essential temperament and documented history of community involvement, we believe she will be better able to respond to these challenges. In addition to collaborative skills, the next DA will also need to impose an administrative efficiency and discipline lacking in recent years. By this measure, both candidates will find themselves tested. The good news is that there’s no shortage of talented, dedicated people already working in that office.

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