Joyce Dudley announced Thursday that she is retiring as district attorney for Santa Barbara County, a position she has held for nearly 12 years.
Dudley made the announcement in front of the arch at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, with a cadre of her staff members standing behind her.
Dudley, 69, would have been up for re-election in the June for a four-year term as the county’s top prosecutor.
“I’m at a time in my life when I want to spend significant time with…my family and friends, go on to more adventures, to push myself athletically like I’ve never done before, and to spend more time teaching and volunteering,” Dudley said.
She added, “This has been my dream job because of the people I’ve worked with, my friends and family who’ve supported me, and this county, this incredible, incredible, county, that I’ve had the honor to serve.”
In making the announcement, Dudley threw her support behind one of her colleagues, Assistant District Attorney John Savrnoch, to be her successor.
“I have complete faith in John being able to not just lead our office, but increase public safety and justice throughout Santa Barbara County,” Dudley said.
Prior to being elected in 2010, Dudley spent 20 years working as a deputy district attorney, specializing in prosecuting violent crimes against vulnerable victims.
Before becoming an attorney, she worked in various roles in education and with abused children. She holds two education-related master’s degrees.
Elaborating on the timing for her retirement, Dudley told Noozhawk there were several factors that weighed in.
“There were a lot of things about this whole criminal-justice reform, and the community feeling less safe, and ‘defund the police,’ and this whole movement, and it had an effect on local politics, on the Board of Superivors, and on funding,” she said. “And when I was doing the last Board of Supervisors hearing, and I felt like I was fighting uphill, I thought, ‘I’m not having fun.’”
Dudley said the death of her husband, John, three years ago has given her a different perspective on the rest of her life.
“This doesn’t last forever,” she said. “If this were to be the last year of my life, was it fighting this battle at work? Or is it spending more time in the mountains, hiking, biking and skiing, spending more time with my grandchildren.
“And it’s been 32 years. I’m going to be 70 when I start my fourth term. And that feels like what I owed to my family.”
Dudley was first elected in 2010 after a bruising campaign against Joshua Lynn, a fellow deputy district attorney.
She took over an office that was strongly divided between the two candidates, and faced the challenge of bringing people together.
“I spent a lot of time healing the office through the first term,” she said.
Among her accomplishments, Dudley includes establishing an arson task force, developing a truancy program, bringing back retired deputy DAs as volunteers to help on cases, battling elder abuse and establishing diversion programs.
“I feel like I made the media a part of my job, too,” she said. “I think prior DA’s thought ‘no comment’was an appropriate response.”
Savrnoch was on hand Thursday and announced he was beginning his campaign for district attorney.
His remarks were brief, as he said Thursday’s event was about Dudley
“District Attorney Dudley has been more than a DA,” he said. “She is a mentor. She is a fierce advocate for public safety, and she is a dear friend.
“What Joyce Dudley really emphsizes is something I believe in — that compassion, passion, love and kindness are not contrary qualities to being a district attorney. In fact, they are and should be requirements.”
No one else thus far has expressed their intent to run for district attorney, which is on the June 2022 ballot.