Ann Bramsen, Santa Barbara County’s senior deputy district attorney, will be honored this week by the California District Attorneys Association for a body of work that includes major back-to-back gang trials involving multiple defendants. “(Gang violence is) one of the biggest problems for society,” she says. “So I feel like I can make the biggest difference by handling the violent gang cases.” (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

For almost a year, a pair of criminal cases involving nearly two dozen defendants linked to Santa Barbara County gangs — including top-ranking members — all-but-consumed Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen’s life.

Bramsen, recently named California Prosecutor of the Year, this spring wrapped up a months-long trial that culminated with convictions of five men charged with murder in connection with the 2013 death of Anthony Ibarra, a 28-year-old Santa Maria man. Six other defendants took pleas.

And just before that trial, she led the prosecution of a torture-kidnapping case of a top Santa Barbara gang member convicted last year in a Lompoc crime. That case also ended with multiple guilty verdicts or pleas.

“Those two cases were remarkable, both in the number of defendants and in the significant scope and volume of evidence and witnesses,” Bramsen told Noozhawk.

“I think that each one individually was unusual, and to have them come together like they did was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Bramsen will receive her award Thursday at the California District Attorneys Association annual conference in Napa, becoming the first Santa Barbara County prosecutor to win the honor.

“Ann’s focus has always been public safety,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Noozhawk. “She is incensed by violence in any form but especially gang violence.

“Her well thought-out plan has always been to surgically remove the ‘shot callers’ (gang leaders) in the hopes that the gangs will cease to exist and our youth will be left with a safe environment where they can flourish.”

She said Bramsen’s record deserves to be recognized.

“Her unparalleled success, along with the fact that she is the ultimate team player, both within our office as well as with all of our law enforcement colleagues, are among the many reasons I nominated her as Prosecutor of the Year,” Dudley said.

Bramsen earned her undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara in 1996 and went on to Pepperdine University Law School, graduating in 1999.

An uncle who worked as a prosecutor in Los Angeles influenced her career choice, she said, recalling how much he loved his job.

She interned with the District Attorney’s Office while in college, and was hired 15 years ago after passing the California Bar Exam.

In law school, Bramsen enjoyed research and writing, but she knew she wanted to do more than push papers.

“I didn’t want to be just a lawyer,” she said. “I definitely wanted to be a prosecutor. I loved the idea of justice and being able to do the right thing for the right reason.

“And I love the courtroom. I’m definitely a trial lawyer.”

Since joining the DA’s Santa Maria office, Bramsen has prosecuted some of the North County’s most notorious gang members, including Raymond Macias, head of the Sureños gang in the county. Macias was the top defendant in a gang-related torture-kidnapping case from Lompoc.

“In my opinion, his conviction sends a message to gangs throughout the county, and makes all of our communities safer by taking several violent gang members off the street,” she said.

Bramsen did a stint in management of the DA’s wide-ranging operation, including serving as interim district attorney when Dudley’s elected predecessor, Christie Stanley, died in office. After five years in management, Bramsen headed back to the courtroom.

“I really missed the ability to make a difference by handling an individual case to bring justice to a victim’s family,” she said. “To be in the courtroom — that’s why I became lawyer.”

Bramsen previously handled sexual abuse and domestic violence cases, but lately has focused on prosecuting the county’s top gang leaders.

Gang cases are particularly challenging as witnesses often are extremely reluctant to testify for fear of reprisal.

“I also find that, in our community, that’s one of the most violent crimes that we face and one of the biggest problems for society,” Bramsen said. “So I feel like I can make the biggest difference by handling the violent gang cases.”

With a half-dozen defendants going to trial in the Ibarra torture-murder case, Bramsen was faced with a host of new challenges and experiences. The six were among 11 linked to the killing of the low-level gang associate at a West Donovan Road house in March 2013. Five of the defendants were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

It’s believed to the largest and longest multidefendant case tried Santa Barbara County.

Bramsen, the case’s lone prosecutor, had to be prepared to face off against six experienced and top defense attorneys — each with a different courtroom personality and strategy.

She put in “countless hours” to make sure justice was done for the victim and his family.

Bramsen said she intends to continue prosecuting criminals.

“It’s what makes me like getting up in the morning,” she said. “It’s what makes me love coming to work. I’m lucky to work with amazing people and great police departments and have a lot of support.

“I just hope to continue to be able to bring justice to victims of crime and to help to make our community safer.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A stylized hawk's head on a red background

Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.