As John Savrnoch approaches the 30-year milestone of his service as a prosecutor, he’s embarking on a new challenge: a campaign for the now-open Santa Barbara County district attorney seat.
Mr. Savrnoch has worked as a deputy district attorney in the office since 2015. But Joyce Dudley, who has helmed the office since 2010, has decided not to vie for re-election — and she’s handpicked Mr. Savrnoch to run as her replacement.
If Mr. Savrnoch is successful, it will be a culmination of a career he has loved, he said.
“For me, the ability and opportunity to actually lead this office would be a dream come true — protecting victims, protecting public safety along with proposing innovative programs for offenders who I believe we can effectuate change in,” Mr. Savrnoch told the News-Press in an interview. “It’s a very interesting time to be a prosecutor: The laws are changing fast and furious, and I would love to support the people doing this work, support the victims and help the community.”
Originally from Wisconsin, Mr. Savrnoch joined McCormick Barstow in Fresno shortly after law school in 1990 but soon made the jump to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office where he worked as an attorney for nearly 23 years. There, Mr. Savrnoch served as the chief assistant district attorney, supervised the financial crimes and consumer protection unit and prosecuted serious financial crimes.
Mr. Savrnoch joined the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office in 2015, originally assigned to the Lompoc Division. He was appointed to serve as the chief deputy district attorney by Ms. Dudley in 2016.
“I deeply care about people. There is no way to do this job and not be overwhelmed by how deeply lives can be impacted by crime,” Mr. Savrnoch said.
But Mr. Savrnoch holds two principles at the forefront of his service: the importance of ethics and the power of education.
“The most important function of a prosecutor is to be ethical,” Mr. Savrnoch said. “It is the highest requirement of anybody doing this job is that they are ethical. I’m really proud of the people that I have brought into D.A.’s offices in Santa Barbara and in Fresno that have developed into really exceptional, ethical prosecutors who care deeply about victims and their community.”
Mr. Savrnoch is spearheading the Goleta Neighborhood Restorative Justice Program, an effort to help low-level, misdemeanor offenders not get caught in a cycle of crime. The idea is to have the individuals participate in community service, meet people in the community and be educated about the impact of their actions.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart is working in tandem with Mr. Savrnoch on the project and said he’s looking forward to it beginning. He has also thrown his weight behind Mr. Savrnoch’s candidacy.
“I’m just really excited about the collaboration between the District Attorney’s Office and our office and the city of Goleta,” Supervisor Hart told the News-Press. “It’s been a great partnership. He’s going to be a fantastic district attorney and has my full support and encouragement in this new endeavor and responsibility, and the county will be very fortunate to have him as our next district attorney.”
Ms. Dudley told the News-Press: “I placed John in charge of this important and exciting program because of his commitment to restorative justice, his passion for victims and due process and his terrific people skills. Under John’s supervision, this program won’t just succeed but will likely become a model program for other counties to emulate.”
“I think without a doubt, the best crime prevention tool we have available is to get people a good education,” Mr. Savrnoch said.
Ms. Dudley previously told the News-Press she would not have made the decision to retire from the office if she did not have a “succession plan” in place. That plan included finding someone she considered to be a suitable replacement.
For her, that’s Mr. Savrnoch.
“I have complete faith in John being able to not just lead our office but to increase public safety and justice throughout Santa Barbara Count,” Ms. Dudley said during a press conference earlier this week.
The statewide primary is June 7. Ms. Dudley said she would remain in her position until early January.