Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dudley Takes On Her Boss

It's been a long time since we've had a hotly contested race for District Attorney around here. Back in 1982, Tom Sneddon, who was the Chief Trial Deputy in the office ran against the late Rob Carney, a well-liked and well respected attorney in private practice.

In what some observers at the time considered to be an upset, Sneddon defeated Carney. Sneddon of course served that term as well as five more without ever again being challenged.

When Sneddon finally retired in 2006, Christie Stanley, who had been in charge of the offices' north county operations, was the obvious successor. She threw her hat in the ring and for a long time it seemed she would be the only candidate in the race until Santa Barbara defense attorney Doug Hayes decided, relatively late in the campaign, to run against her.

Stanley defeated Hayes handily, garnering nearly 70 percent of the vote and of course made history in the process. She had become the first woman to hold the office of district attorney in Santa Barbara County.

Having inherited a solid office and upper management team from Sneddon she seemed assured of being able to keep the office on track and perhaps even to take it to the next level.

Then fate struck a cold cruel blow. Around eight months into her first term Stanley, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Treatment and recovery meant she spent much time out of the office. When well enough, she ran things from home or from the Santa Maria office which was a shorter commute from her north county residence.

Now that cancer is finally in her rear-view mirror, Stanley has a new obstacle in front of her, an opponent in her bid for reelection. Yesterday, Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced that she is running for DA.

If her boundless energy was the only thing Dudley had going for her, she would be a formidable foe. But Dudley also has a stellar reputation as a sex crimes prosecutor. At least two of her colleagues in the office will be publicly supporting her: Gerry Franklin, who's been a deputy DA since the mid 1970's and Ron Zonen, who perhaps is best known for being a member of the prosecution team on the Michael Jackson case.

Zonen recently told me that had gone to see Stanley personally to tell her that he would be supporting Dudley so that she "wouldn't hear it somewhere else first."

Stanley herself unwittingly gave Dudley's candidacy some extra publicity when she took two cases away from her and assigned them to another lawyer in the office. The move was bound to appear heavy-handed. Dudley would later get one of the cases, the prosecution of water polo mom Genise Schu, back at the request of the alleged victim's mother.

While perhaps few voters pay attention to the personnel assignments in the DA's office, just about everyone is aware of the anger and frustration that followed the announcement of Stanley's decision not to prosecute anyone for actually starting the Tea Fire. Without a doubt, Dudley figures to raise that decision as an issue in the campaign.

Stanley undoubtedly must feel that she never got to serve the full-term that she was elected to. She will have to convince voters that she deserves another chance. She will know that she's succeeded when the next object that appears in her rear view mirror is Dudley.

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After 20 years, look for the News-Press to announce that it is ditching the Lifetime Achievement Awards. The awards banquet, which was annually held in November of each year, kicked off the annual News-Press Holiday Fund drive and honored local citizens who had made significant contributions to worthy causes. The News-Press is expected to cite the economic climate as the reason for canceling the banquet.

It will be interesting to see whether the News-Press announces this before or after owner Wendy McCaw's next big party on her yacht.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and