It was like watching two heavyweight boxers exchange hits. Joyce Dudley with a left, Joshua Lynn with a right…
Blow after blow, the two seasoned trial lawyers went at it for nearly two hours Wednesday night in front of a packed Faulkner Gallery at the Santa Barbara Public Library, trying to show why they should be the next District Attorney, and, conversely, why the other person should not.
A standing room only crowd there to see the first meet-up between foes got exactly what it was looking for: A hotly contested debate between two strong personalities running for District Attorney.
No sooner had forum moderator (and a former DA himself) Stan Roden finished explaining that the event would be professional and dignified with no personal attacks, that the two got into it.
Lynn focused on his experience, saying he had prosecuted graffiti cases and capital murder cases, along with most everything in between. “I’m the only candidate who has run the District Attorney’s office and its $17.4 million budget,” he said. “I’m the only candidate who has a flawless record in the courtroom.”
Lynn said the most significant issue facing the office was the budget, and indicated he believed upcoming budget news looked good, partly because he “dedicated a good portion of the last eight months of [his] life” to the budget. Lynn took a swipe at the board of supervisor’s majority — members of which are supporting Dudley — when they cut funding to the DA’s office during Stanley’s time at the helm “apparently because the DA wasn’t herself there” while giving funding to the Public Defender’s office, which traditionally dukes it out with the DA for funding.
Dudley quickly took him to task, disagreeing about numbers Lynn presented to the crowd. Dudley claimed the budget was over by $800,000 (“could be $900,000,” she said)) and staffed with 121 people, while Lynn said there was no such deficit and mentioned a staffing level of 200. “It’s important for the DA and the administration to get their facts straight,” Dudley concluded. She also said Lynn has, in fact, very little to do with the budget, and his trying to take responsibility for it was “sad.”
Dudley announced she was running for District Attorney back in September, at the time thinking she was going to be challenging her boss, Christie Stanley, who had been battling cancer for much of her four-year term. It was the first time an incumbent would face opposition from someone within the office. “I began to feel there was a lack of leadership,” explained Dudley, who said she met with Stanley and told her as much. Stanley, a month later, announced she was in fact not going to seek re-election, but instead endorse her chief trial deputy, Lynn, whom she had made her sitting DA as she dealt with illness.
The story unfolded in dramatic style, with each week seemingly bringing more spectacle to the table, and leaving many with a bad taste in their mouths. The animosity between the two has grown in the weeks since, with Lynn releasing documents in an attempt to portray Dudley as an overzealous, unethical prosecutor, while both sides have been actively seeking endorsements. It all came to a head Wednesday night, and the tension was palpable in the hot, packed room.
While Lynn has pledged since the beginning of his campaign there would be no repercussion for anyone in the office as a result of the campaign, Dudley refused to commit to such a promise Tuesday night, even after a question by Roden.
“I’m going to do what I’ve always done,” Dudley said. “What is in the best interests of the county?” She said that recent acts by Lynn — including naming a child victim of a molestation on an attack website going after Dudley — would make him unfit to remain in an office she led. “I’m hoping we can turn this around and make this a positive campaign,” she said. Lynn responded, attacking Dudley’s prosecution of the molestation case, saying the “victim was molested by a person who got away.” This only seemed to make Dudley more upset, as she turned to Lynn, pointed her pen at him, saying, “You used her for your political gain.” Lynn could be fired because he is in a managerial position. Dudley is an at-will county employee and couldn’t be terminated by her bosses.
Asked by Roden about morale, the two both admitted the DA’s office had taken a hit. Dudley said moral came from a lack of leadership, while Lynn called the last several months hard emotionally and mentally watching Stanley fight for her life. But, he said, leadership was not the issue, and certain leaders had stepped up to the plate. “Those leaders didn’t try to run Christie Stanley out of office,” he said, echoing a common complaint that Dudley had stepped into the race when Stanley was sick, rather than remain loyal to the office.
Dudley said she was “embarrassed” by the handling of the Tea Fire investigation, which took more than six months to come to a conclusion. “What we did was negligent,” said Dudley, who said she was an arson expert who gives talks around the state. Despite that, Lynn countered, “It’s very telling she wasn’t entrusted with that responsibility [to investigate the fire].” He said speed was not as important as getting the job done right. “We could’ve done it faster, but it wouldn’t have been fair.”
Both expressed a need to reach children before gangs did, and Lynn said he’s allocated more DA resources to the juvenile court program. The DA’s office is also working to bring back the truancy program. “Gangs will fear the District Attorney’s office when I am district attorney,” Lynn said. Dudley said the community has to give youth hope and a feeling of self-worth, and that “what we’re doing is not working.” She said there must be cohesiveness amongst groups pursuing funding.
The two went on to face questions about California’s three strike policy — each agrees cases should be examined individually, and both candidates made similar statements about the death penalty and charging minors as adults for some crimes. Neither had decided who they would fill their managerial staff with, and both supported the idea of gang injunctions, though both concluded they are very complicated and detailed and must be done carefully.
In the crowd were several familiar faces, including police officers, defense attorneys and several members of both the public defender’s office and the district attorney’s office to hear in person the two go at it for the first time since each announced in the fall of last year.
More forums will follow leading up to the election, which is June 8, with vote by mail ballots going out May 10.