Governor Jerry Brown crossed party lines and appointed prosecuting attorney Michael Carrozzo, a registered Republican, to fill the Santa Barbara Superior Court vacancy created last October when Judge George Eskin retired. Coincidentally or not, Carrozzo worked closely with Eskin in the creation of a Veterans Treatment Court on the South Coast. In that effort, military veterans charged with less serious crimes are funneled into treatment alternatives instead of the traditional criminal process.
Carrozzo joined the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office in 2007 and is a military veteran himself. He still serves as a JAG officer, a major, in the Amy Reserves. In that capacity, his assignment over the past three years has been to provide defense counsel to army personnel facing various charges. In part because he has spent the past three years working both sides of the aisle — prosecutor by week, defense attorney on weekends — Carrozzo said he doesn’t expect the transition from prosecutor to judge to be that bumpy.
Carrozzo grew up in Santa Clarita, where his father, a Hollywood stuntman and actor, owned a small ranch. As a teenager, Carrozzo accompanied his grandmother on visits to Santa Barbara, where her husband — his grandfather — is buried at the Santa Barbara cemetery. Smitten with the South Coast’s obvious attractions, Carrozzo enrolled at Santa Barbara City College and then transferred to UCSB before transferring again to UCLA, from which he graduated. Carrozzo would later graduate from Loyola Law School, but not before experiencing an internship at the District Attorney’s Office under the tutelage of semi-legendary prosecutor Pat McKinley, known for his sardonic wit, willingness to teach, and keen sense of proportionality not always found in District Attorney offices.
After law school, Carrozzo worked the trenches of private practice in Los Angeles, Beverley Hills, and Glendale, doing civil, personal injury, divorce, and immigration cases. When 9/11 happened, Carrozzo tried to enroll in the Army but was too old. He spent the next two years securing the necessary exceptions to sign up. Given his legal background, Carrozzo served as a JAG officer, first in Virginia and then later in Ft. Irwin in Northern California.
The military life is notoriously hard on families; Carrozzo and his wife set their eyes on transitioning to the civilian mode and settling down in Santa Barbara. In 2007, they did just that when Carrozzo was hired by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office.
Because of his military experience, Carrozzo’s boss — DA Joyce Dudley — appointed him to represent the DA’s Office in the veterans court. Although Carrozzo never saw combat himself, he saw the effect combat had on many returning vets. At the same time, he’s mindful that not all transgressions committed by veterans can be attributed to their military service.
Carrozzo has handled the department’s appellate case load and played a supporting role in the recent gang injunction trial waged by the City of Santa Barbara and the DA’s Office against a team of six defense attorneys. Carrozzo, solidly built, friendly, but not endowed with the bombastic traits of television prosecutors, handled all allegations of misconduct filed against other prosecutors as well as all officer-involved shooting cases. His case load also included a large number of defendants facing criminal charges for various narcotics violations. “I’m so proud of him,” said Dudley. “He’s great.”
Carrozzo will be sworn in next week. “It’s a whirlwind,” he said, “once the appointment is made.” As for being a judge, he said, “It’s always been a dream of mine, probably since law school. We all have an obligation to make the system work and to make it accessible so that everyone gets their day in court.” As judge, Carrozzo will earn $181,000 a year.