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Ventura County

Bradley's Chief Assistant Would Be Likely Successor

July 16, 2001|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten appears poised to become Ventura County's first new district attorney in 23 years, if his boss is appointed U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury considers himself a longshot for the federal post, but he is leading a quiet crusade on Totten's behalf in case he is selected.

"There's only one choice," said Bradbury, who has served as the county's district attorney for six terms. "That's Greg Totten, one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing."

Totten is hesitant to talk about becoming district attorney. Nonetheless, he said he is prepared if the position becomes available.

"If the president exercises the wisdom and good judgment to appoint [Bradbury] to this position, I am ready to assume this significant responsibility," Totten said.

But he said such talk is premature.

"Thankfully, he's not packing his bags just yet," said Totten, who became chief assistant district attorney in 1998. "And frankly, I'm still hopeful that he will continue to be the district attorney for many years to come."

But a selection of the new U.S. attorney for the state's Central District, which extends from Orange County to San Luis Obispo, could come as soon as next month.

Typically, the job goes to either veteran federal prosecutors or well-connected senior members of major Los Angeles law firms.

Ventura County supporters say that makes Bradbury, 59, something of an outside candidate, despite his reputation as a tough, no-nonsense prosecutor running the safest urban county in the western United States.

Bradbury has had no serious challenge for the office since he won it in 1978. And he acknowledges that even if the offer comes through, he would miss his current job, where he oversees a staff of 600 people and a budget of $40 million.

"I love this office," Bradbury said. "It's been my home for 33 years. It would be the hardest thing in the world to consider leaving it. . . . But it would be a great honor to be the president's lawyer."

Ultimately, any decision about a Bradbury successor would begin with the Board of Supervisors, which could appoint a temporary successor or schedule a special election.

Supervisor John K. Flynn said he is reluctant to simply promote the second-in-command, noting that the public frowns on such "baton handoffs."

The board came under fire last year when it selected Assistant Auditor-Controller Christine Cohen to take over for her boss, long-time Controller Thomas Mahon, when he retired at mid-term.

Although praising Totten, Flynn said a special election could be the best option.

"There's no question in my mind about his capabilities," Flynn said of Totten. "He's really a super person and I like him a lot. But I don't know what the public would think about the appointment."

Supervisor Judy Mikels, however, said she sees little need to look beyond the chief assistant district attorney.

"I don't know that I would wander off on my own and do eenie-meenie-minie-mo," Mikels said. "The second in command would be the choice unless there's some glaring problem."

Totten is a seasoned trial lawyer who has handled cases ranging from petty thefts to capital murder. He started his career in the district attorney's office after graduating from Pepperdine University Law School in 1982. In 1987, he became a special assistant to Bradbury, in charge of political misconduct investigations and working with the grand jury.

Totten left the district attorney's office in 1993 to serve as executive director of the California District Attorneys Assn., where he lobbied on behalf of nearly 2,500 prosecutors statewide.

While there, he fought to make serious rape and child molestation crimes punishable by prison sentences of 25 years to life in prison. He also helped draft a law that made it easier to prosecute child abuse cases resulting in a death.

Totten returned to Ventura County in 1996 to head the child-support division of Bradbury's office. In 1998, Bradbury's No. 2 man, Kevin McGee, was elected to a judgeship. Totten was tapped to fill the vacancy.

While conceding that Totten is a smart prosecutor with a track record of ethical dealings, some critics privately question if he could fill the political void that would be left if Bradbury stepped down. But they also say they doubt anybody could.

"To do what Bradbury has done, appease a very conservative county and make them feel protected and build a real empire . . . there's nobody I can think of that has that kind of skill," said one defense lawyer.

Still, Totten is very popular within the district attorney's office, where he has a reputation of being the first man in the office every morning and one of the last to leave at night.

"Since he's been here, he's done a terrific job," Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Holmes said. "He listens to a great variety of voices, he's decisive and he's very well-liked in the office. I think he'd be terrific."

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