Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

In unusually heated remarks, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley this Tuesday accused the county supervisors of “discrimination and unwarranted favoritism with taxpayers’ dollars” against her and her department. Dudley, now in the last few months of her last term of office, took pointed exception to a proposal that would give her ​— ​as an elected department head ​— ​a 2.5 percent pay increase while all appointed county department heads had been given pay increases of 5 percent. 

In particular, Dudley expressed outrage that Public Defender Tracy Macuga is currently making $11,000 more than she is. County Counsel Rachel Van Mullem, Dudley noted, is making $10,000 more. For good measure, Dudley added, the District Attorney of Ventura County was paid $45,000 more than she is, and her counterpart in San Luis Obispo is taking home $19,000 more a year. 

Dudley referred to herself throughout the exchange in the third person ​— ​either as “the district attorney,” “your district attorney,” or simply as “she” ​— ​but her remarks had a deeply personal edge, as she recounted the long hours and sleepless nights she endured attempting to keep the community safe from murderers, rapists, child molesters, arsonists, and thieves.

Dudley noted that Public Defender Macuga handles only 60 percent of the DA’s criminal case load and supervises only 65 percent as many people. Likewise, Dudley noted that she’d worked as a prosecuting attorney for the District Attorney’s office 20 years prior to being elected for the first of her three terms in 2010. Macuga, she remarked, was first appointed in 2016. Van Mullen, the county counsel, was appointed in 2021. Dudley also emphasized she has two master’s degrees.

Most direct in his response was Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who commented, “I got a massive headache in the last 10 minutes.” He took exception to being “called out on the carpet for favoritism” over a difference of only “a couple thousand bucks.” “That’s tough for me to hear,” he said. “That’s not cool.” Parity, he said, did not mean identical; it meant close. 

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Supervisor Gregg Hart argued that elected department heads do not face the same market pressures as appointed department heads; people run for elected office for reasons of public service, not just financial reward. People don’t step down as DA to take a better-paying job for another jurisdiction. “That just doesn’t happen,” he insisted. 

Supervisor Das Williams added that he couldn’t just pack his bags and run for supervisor in Los Angeles County. But appointed department heads, he said, can. He acknowledged struggling to approve the 5 percent raise for appointed department heads when most county employees got 2.5 percent. That meant giving people who make three to four times more than the people working under them raises three to four times bigger. But he did so, Williams said, in order to attract and retain qualified departmental leadership.

Ultimately, Dudley was given a 3.5 percent pay increase to bring her at the same level as Macuga and Van Mullen. But the rest of her peers among the elected department heads saw no additional bump beyond the 2.5 percent.

The dust-up was perhaps predictable. Never before in county history has the district attorney made less than the Public Defender. And the bad blood between Macuga and Dudley is an open secret on the fourth floor of the county administration building. Macuga has pushed hard for criminal justice reforms since taking the post six years ago, especially so in the wake of the George Floyd murder two years ago. Dudley has balked at some of the reforms, insisting that public safety considerations are paramount. Dudley ​— ​a former Head Start instructor who emerged politically as a champion for women and children subjected to sexual and physical abuse ​— ​was not accustomed to being pushed by county supervisors on both sides of the aisle to do more than she deemed prudent. Dudley has bristled at the experience.

With the 3.5 percent increase, the District Attorney will now make $257,406 annually. The Public Defender will make $259,076, and the County Counsel will make $257,406.

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