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D.A. Bucks Plans to Retire on Ranch

Career: Ventura County's Michael Bradbury decides the quiet life can wait. He will leave office two months early to join an L.A. law firm.

October 01, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So much for riding off into the sunset.

When Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury announced last year that he would not seek reelection, he said he planned a retirement of family and friends, and of watching sunsets astride his favorite cutting horse, Montana, on his Hang 'em High Ranch near Ojai.

Now, the veteran prosecutor says he will leave office two months early to become a highly paid partner in a Los Angeles law firm trying to expand its business in Ventura County and the Central Coast.

After 24 years as a tough-talking district attorney, the cowboy lawman will turn over the prosecutorial reins to top deputy Greg Totten, who won the office in March.

Bradbury notified the Board of Supervisors on Monday that he will resign Nov. 1 instead of leaving office at the end of his sixth term in January.

Bradbury, 60, the longest-serving prosecutor in Ventura County history, will report three days later to his new job at Weston, Benshoof, Rochefort, Rubalcava & MacCuish, a 70-attorney business law firm based in downtown Los Angeles.

He will work in a Westlake office with new partner and longtime friend Charles Cohen, a top land-use lawyer in Thousand Oaks.

"I've decided I'm kind of a Type A personality, and it would be hard for me to retire at this time," Bradbury said. "Finally, the realization that I'm not ready to quit sunk in. I need to keep working. I need to keep doing something. Maybe I'll be ready when I'm 65."

A principal role for Bradbury will be to hustle Ventura County business for his new firm. But he also plans to return to the courtroom as a trial lawyer for the first time since the 1980s to handle big civil cases in Los Angeles, he said. He will avoid Ventura County courts.

"It would be difficult to find a judge where there would not be a need to disclose a conflict or to disqualify [the judge]," he said.

Most of the 28 judges on the Ventura County Superior Court are former prosecutors from Bradbury's office, and he recommended them for appointment by the governor. Indeed, Bradbury considers his main legacy the high-quality attorneys he recruited or promoted and who later went on to judgeships and top legal practices.

Bradbury leaves behind a $157,000-a-year position as head of the state's 10th-largest district attorney's office. He was first elected in 1978, and his tenure at least doubles that of any other Ventura County top prosecutor.

After 33 years in the district attorney's office, he will receive a retirement benefit of about $135,000 annually. He would not disclose his new wage, but said it is far more than he currently earns. He said he was surprised at the law firms' interest once word got out that he was in the market for a job.

"I was offered more money at other [Los Angeles] firms," he said, " but it's never been about money. I like the people at this firm. And they've been very fair."

Steven Weston, a principal partner for Bradbury's new employer, said he expanded the firm into Ventura County a couple of years ago by recruiting Cohen as a partner. Then Cohen introduced him to the Ventura prosecutor. They have been talking seriously for six months, Weston said.

"Mike is incredibly impressive," he said. "You start talking to him and it's like, 'Wow, what a guy!' I told him, 'You can work in Westlake. You can work the hours you want.' He's got young children. So he could do the things he wants to do, and the things our firm wants him to do, too."

In his new job, Bradbury's primary responsibility will be to help the Weston firm expand from its three-lawyer Ventura County base, which now focuses on land development.

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