With the leadership of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office already in the midst of a contentious political campaign, the office is about to experience a different sort of transition. Later this month, it will be losing decades of experience when five senior deputy district attorneys step down.
The retirements of the senior prosecutors have little to do with the race to become the county’s next district attorney between Joshua Lynn and Joyce Dudley, themselves experienced prosecutors (Dudley for 19 years and Lynn for 14), and everything to do with a recent deal the deputy DA’s union worked out with the county in an effort to reduce county costs.
But in the process-with five senior prosecutors taking the county’s deal, combined with North County chief assistant district attorney Gene Martinez’s recent retirement and DA Christie Stanley’s anticipated retirement-the office will have lost roughly 200 years in prosecutorial experience. And that doesn’t even count Stanley’s second-in-command Eric Hanson, who is “leaning toward” retiring after 32 years with the department, or former chief trial deputy Pat McKinley, who retired last summer after 38 years in the office.
The office’s two longest tenants, Gerald Franklin and Darryl Perlin, have both decided to retire, though Franklin, while technically retiring, plans to come back as a full-time volunteer. “I have a good time and would like to continue to have a good time,” said the avid birdwatcher, who added he would’ve been a fool not to take the retirement offer from the county. Perlin, an Elvis enthusiast and impersonator, is also hoping to stick around to finish a few of his cases that are nearing trial.
The retirements are part of a recently implemented incentive program to help put a dent in the county’s salary costs. Employees who retire will receive a two-year credit to their pension as part of the deal the Deputy District Attorney’s Association made with the county, and the department won’t be able to hire replacements for six months to recoup the credit cost. When it does, it will have to hire level-one deputy district attorneys, as opposed to senior-level attorneys.
Allan Kaplan, a 27-year veteran of the office who negotiated the deal as the longtime president of the union, is also retiring. The other South County retiree is believed to be Vicki Johnson, though she didn’t return a phone call to confirm.
As with any organization, experience is hard to lose, and transitions can be difficult. The institutional memory-procedures and local history and relationships with judges, defense attorneys, and court staff-takes time to build. But what counts most heavily is experience in prosecuting cases, where attorneys gain a greater understanding of the law along with improving research and brief-writing skills.
But while the group leaving has prosecuted almost every crime under the sun and possesses a wealth of knowledge that is certainly invaluable, there’s still plenty of experience roaming the beautiful Santa Barbara Courthouse halls on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office, as well as several deputies waiting in the wings. Remaining will be 14 senior-level employees, including Hilary Dozer, who has successfully prosecuted two murder cases in the last year; Gordon Auchincloss; Ron Zonen; and Lee Carter. And the list goes on.
Additionally, several deputies are rising through the department’s ranks, many of them with the department for 10-plus years. “There is a layer of attorneys waiting for the opportunity to show their stuff, and lawyers above them to help lead,” explained Hanson. Even the office’s newest prosecutor, Elizabeth O’Brien, has three years’ experience and is one of two level-two deputies. “You have to have talent to get in, and you have to have talent to stay in,” said Carter, who himself is in the midst of his 25th year as a Santa Barbara prosecutor.
What remains is an increased workload-at least for six months-and a confident group looking to step into the gaps left in an office that rarely sees turnover. “I certainly feel we can step up to the plate, and I feel confident moving forward,” O’Brien said.
As for the 2010 transition at the top spot, Lynn, who made his official campaign announcement Wednesday, has been appointed to Christie Stanley’s job as district attorney, until further notice. Stanley had a bad fall and broke her hips and is expected to be out for some time. The decision has caused some rankles, especially with Lynn’s opponent, Dudley, who said that in making the move, Stanley is “attempting to anoint her successor.” Lynn defended the decision, saying it wasn’t a matter of politics but one of practicality.