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Michael D. Bradbury: Balancing the Scales : District attorney: Some say he's a tough prosecutor. Others say he pushes too hard and uses his office to bring down political foes.

March 24, 1991|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With 35,314 votes, Bradbury beat the nearest of his four competitors by 503 votes. One of his first acts upon taking office was to hire Ray Sinetar, a respected Los Angeles County prosecutor, who became his chief assistant and drafted his policy against plea bargaining.

Four years later, Sinetar left under a cloud: It spread from a new program of harsh personnel evaluations that Bradbury had asked him to set up, which eventually embroiled the office in acrimonious hearings before the county Civil Service Commission.

Sinetar said he quit Feb. 6, 1984, of his own volition, after Bradbury misled him by telling him his evaluation contained little criticism from his co-workers, then reading off "an unremitting list of indictments" from them in a closed-door meeting.

Six months later, Sinetar resurfaced at a county Civil Service Commission hearing on another deputy's complaints about the evaluation procedures.

There, Sinetar was quoted as testifying about his former boss, "He is a man without honor. He is not a truthful person. He is a hypocrite."

Interviewed recently, Sinetar explained: "I think he took the responsibility of being district attorney seriously." But he said that Bradbury's "character flaws" included going back on promises.

Told of that remark and similar comments from some other lawyers and judges, Bradbury replied: "They're so insignificant. I'm not going to start responding to that kind of stuff."

By all accounts, Bradbury keeps a rigid grip on his office. His deputies must check all their filing decisions with supervisors, and supervisors adhere to Bradbury's wishes.

"I wasn't elected to give 90 attorneys the discretion to decide how cases should be handled," Bradbury said.

However, Ventura defense attorney and former prosecutor Chuck Samonsky said Bradbury's tight reins have sapped the deputies' morale.

"They're unhappy they don't have any discretion to do anything," Samonsky said. "They feel like little puppy dogs who can't make any decisions for themselves."

Eskin observed, "Mike will surround himself with sycophants, who will tell him what he wants to hear and embrace the party line, rather than allow attorneys the discretion to think for themselves and make their own charging decisions, and I think that's awful."

Veteran prosecutor Carol J. Nelson said that the requirement to consult supervisors before making charging decisions "can be very frustrating."

But she said of the critics, "If you don't like his policies, just don't work here."

Even with his allies, Bradbury's dedication to his job can spark conflict.

Sheriff John V. Gillespie, a longtime friend, said he and Bradbury have disagreed "long and loud" over the prosecutor's desire to gain access to police officers' statements to superiors during internal investigations--information protected by law from outside scrutiny.

The county's police chiefs are in accordance with Gillespie, but they also agree that, "with Mike you can disagree without being disagreeable," said Oxnard Police Chief Robert Owens.

Law enforcement officials in the county are among Bradbury's strongest supporters.

Said Gillespie: "I think Mike's probably one of the best district attorneys in California--the bottom line. Leaving off all the perfumed stuff everybody says, I think he just wants to do his job here.

"And he does it with a little more swagger than many, with a little more bombast than many, but he does his job, and he does it well."

OFFICE AT A GLANCE

District Attorney: Michael D. Bradbury

Assistant Dist. Atty.: Colleen Toy White

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty.: Vincent J. O'Neill Jr.

Chief Investigator: Braden McKinley

Staff: More than 365, including 90 deputies

1990 fiscal year budget: $17,362,900

Misdemeanor cases filed: 24,383

Dismissed: 1,385

Convictions: 298

Guilty pleas: 19,933

Acquittals: 84

Hung juries: 19

Felony cases filed: 1,869

Dismissed: 170

Convictions: 177

Guilty pleas: 1,351

Acquittals: 35

Hung juries: 10

\o7 Source: 1990 Calendar Year Vital Statistics\f7

BRADBURY AT A GLANCE

* Born: Feb. 16, 1942, son of Marie and Frederick Bradbury, a utility company employee and the Susanville, Calif., police chief

* Political affiliation: Republican

* Education: Lassen Union High School, 1960; University of Oregon, bachelor of science degree in history, 1964; Hastings Law School, juris doctor, 1967

* Outside activities: Horseback riding, cattle ranch work, mountain biking, karate, skiing, photography

* Published articles: Plea bargaining, sexual assault, drunk driving and the Rose Bird Supreme Court.

* Recent reading: "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry, "American Constitutional Law" by Lawrence H. Tribe and the autobiography "Ronald Reagan: An American Life"

* Quote: "I love to see that big old prison bus pull up, and just fill it up and send dangerous people off to prison."

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