DISTRICT ATTORNEY REPLIES: District Attorney Christie Stanley says reports that she rarely visits the office due to illness are false “rumors,” that her lung cancer is in remission, and that she plans to run for reelection in 2010.
Contradicting reports that she is an absentee DA much of the time, Stanley told me Tuesday, August 11, that she is a “full-time” district attorney and is in one of the Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, or other offices “more or less” daily. “It depends on the amount of business,” she said, adding that she was “offended” that I would want to know the number of hours per week. “I don’t punch a time clock.” Stanley, who is in a wheelchair when she appears in the office or in public, blamed the reports on unnamed “opponents who have no other issues.”
For the most part, deputies have refused to comment on Stanley’s office absences. But one top staffer I spoke to, who refused to be identified and isn’t a candidate, grumbled that the DA was being paid “for not working.”
People are “afraid” to talk about the situation because of the great power a DA wields, said private defense attorney Doug Hayes, a former Santa Barbara prosecutor. “It’s been a big secret.” Hayes, who lost to Stanley in 2006, says he has no ax to grind and doesn’t plan to run again. Hayes said he wanted to make it clear that he has a high opinion of the DA’s staff. “She should be out of there,” Hayes said. “I’m very sad for her, but she’s messing up the office” by not being present and in charge. “She does nothing but she wants a raise.” Her current salary is $179,899, which may be below the pay for that position in comparable districts, but it still ain’t hay. Hayes said he spoke to one investigator who said he sees her about every two months.
But Stanley, who returned my call from the DA’s office the day after I phoned, said she’s actively running the department. “I’m the boss.”
Even those who admire Stanley’s long, courageous fight against cancer and hope for her 100-percent recovery were puzzled by her recent, sudden reassignment of two sex-abuse cases of a highly respected, 20-year deputy district attorney who apparently plans to run for DA in 2010.
When Stanley surprised the Courthouse community by taking deputy Joyce Dudley off the cases, a rare action, there was immediate speculation whether it was to deprive Dudley of high-profile cases that could enhance her campaign to replace Stanley. Stanley strongly denies this. “No, sir,” she told me. She said Dudley was going to be taking time off and also cited budget problems and the need for “others to get experience” in such cases.
Dudley, part of the DA’s Vulnerable Victims Unit, says she emailed Stanley two weeks ago asking for an explanation but so far has not received an answer. “I have been considering [running for DA] and will make an announcement the first of September,” Dudley told me. Normally, a DA with a sound record has little to fear from a challenger deputy highly thought of in legal circles, but little-known to the community at large. Usually, such an incumbent need not resort to office politics.
Hayes said Stanley’s husband, Gary, although not a lawyer, plays an important role in office matters. “He’s in that office on a regular basis, telling people what to do.” Stanley denied this. “He has no role in the office,” but does drive her to and from work, she said. Gary was, however, at the office with his wife when Dudley met with Stanley in June, to inform her that she was considering running. The County Board of Supervisors, facing major budget problems, has twice refused to grant Stanley a raise during the past year. Stanley said her doctors have told her that her cancer is in remission. “If I felt I was not improving, I would look at other options.”
If reports that raised questions whether lung cancer has substantially limited the DA’s office visits and effectiveness are wrong, shouldn’t she have issued a public statement correcting this and clarifying the situation to the public? Stanley, who was first diagnosed with cancer in December 2007, said she saw no need. Clearly uncomfortable about my question regarding her health, she cited her “privacy rights.”
Obviously, an officeholder planning reelection does not relish the thought of issuing such a statement, but the good of the office must be above political concerns. The public has a right to know. What’s needed here is not a continued shadow of doubt and more Courthouse whispers. Stanley should consider issuing a full statement explaining her medical condition, a medical report, prognosis for recovery, and an account of precisely how the DA’s office is being managed. Unless the public is assured, it could be necessary for public confidence to appoint a full-time in-house manager while the DA, who is still receiving treatments, recovers fully.