Credit: Tyler Hayden

Joyce Dudley announced Thursday at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse that she will retire when her third term as District Attorney comes to an end in January 2023. 

“I’m at a time in my life,” she said, “where I want to spend significant time with my family and friends, go on more adventures, push myself athletically like I never have before, and spend more time teaching and volunteering.”

Dudley explained she was endorsing her Chief Deputy District Attorney, John Savrnoch, in the upcoming election. “I have complete faith in John to not just lead our office but to increase public safety and justice throughout Santa Barbara County,” Dudley said.

With no other candidates currently in the running, and the filing deadline fast-approaching, Savrnoch’s election appears all but certain. A graduate of University of Wisconsin Law School, Savrnoch served as a prosecutor for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office for nearly 23 years before taking a job at Santa Barbara County’s Lompoc Division in 2015.

“District Attorney Dudley has been more than a DA,” Savrnoch said. “She’s a mentor, she’s a fierce advocate for public safety, and she’s a dear friend. To secure her support and her endorsement for my candidacy is an honor beyond compare.”

Savrnoch said he looked forward to the people of Santa Barbara County getting to know him better in the coming months, but he said Thursday ought to be about Dudley. “What Joyce really emphasizes is something I also believe in,” he said. “That compassion, love, and kindness are not contrary qualities to being District Attorney. In fact, they are and should be requirements.”

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Dudley said the things she would miss most after 32 years in the DA’s Office are her colleagues and working as a team to prevent crime and hold offenders accountable. She would miss the passion that comes with that calling, she said, and serving the “incredible, incredible” people of Santa Barbara County.

When asked about increased public scrutiny of police conduct in recent years, Dudley said she had “complete faith” in Santa Barbara’s law enforcement agencies and their ability to “do the right thing” in challenging situations. “And I have faith when something happens and an officer makes a poor decision, or an unlawful decision, that our law enforcement agencies will come forward and will make it clear that someone like that just can’t work in Santa Barbara County.”

Though she never prosecuted an officer involved in a shooting incident during her time in office, Dudley said she always looked at the cases carefully to determine if a crime had been committed. “I never assumed the officer did [the right thing] and always stayed gray until I made my decision,” she said.

Thinking about the next four years, Savrnoch said he looked forward to helping continue the success of the Crisis Response Teams deployed by the Sheriff’s Office that pair deputies with mental-health professionals. He also said he would devote resources toward targeting drug dealers ― particularly those selling the methamphetamine and fentanyl responsible for a rash of local overdoses ― as well as DUI offenders. 

“There is nobody in this world who can say they didn’t know that driving under the influence of intoxicants is inherently dangerous,” he said. “It’s a crime that can be and should be avoided. Every time someone is hurt or killed, it breaks my heart, and I will do whatever I can to not only aggressively prosecute those cases but to work with whatever community interests are available to help prevent them from occurring.”

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