MICHAEL D. BRADBURY served as the elected District Attorney for Ventura County for 24 years, stepping down after fulfilling his sixth term early in 2003. He Is the longest-serving District Attorney in the history of the county. During his tenure, the Ventura DA’s office was recognized as one of the most innovative prosecution offices in the nation, and Ventura County was judged by the FBI the safest county west of the Mississippi. Bradbury joined the DA’s office in 1967 as a law clerk, with plans of becoming an FBI agent after completing his initial two-year stint. Instead, he became the chief assistant DA, and was first elected DA in 1978.
“READY FOR THE PEOPLE, Your Honor!”
It’s the classic response from the prosecutor to a trial judge’s question asking whether he is prepared to begin his case against the accused. It is the prosecutor’s ringing affirmation of readiness to let the trial begin, almost a war cry sounding the eagerness of the public’s lawyer to do battle for them. It’s a declaration that aptly fits this important book, and the very good and important man who lived it, then wrote about it.
Yet while Law & Order: Confessions of a District Attorney is important, it’s not a dry, complex legal treatise. It is the accumulated practical, useful and very entertaining wisdom of the Honorable Michael D. Bradbury, learned from his 33 years as a prosecutor and the repeatedly elected District Attorney of Ventura County, California. It is very personal. It teaches more about human nature than the finer points of criminal law. Each chapter offers valuable lessons to the layman who may be called upon to serve as a juror, or a witness, as well as to prosecutors and defense counsels. Or even judges. No, make that, especially judges—good, bad, mediocre, lazy, overbearing—and some exceptionally fine, rigorously ethical, and professional trial judges.
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This book is about Mike, too. As a highly skilled and experienced prosecutor, he has had to deal with some terrible crimes. He is a devoted family man, a loving husband and father of three daughters and two sons. He has great empathy for crime victims and their families and loved ones. While he does not excuse criminal acts, his empathy extends as it should, to youthful offenders who have been threatened, exploited, and manipulated into criminal cooperation by callous pimps and vicious thugs.
Like most of the young lawyers hired by the highly respected veteran Ventura County District Attorney Woody Deem, Mike had expected to leave the DA’s office after only two years as a deputy and then become an FBI agent. That was, in fact, the expectation of District Attorney Deem and his senior management, too.
Yet Mike not only felt called to public service, he also discovered he loved being in court and had a gift for jury trials. So, he stayed on, and discovered he also had a gift for teaching and coaching the young deputy prosecutors and the police and deputy sheriffs with whom the DAs worked on cases.
Finally, when the respected Woody Deem left office to teach law, and his successor retired, Mike ran and was elected to six four-year terms as Ventura’s DA. As the county grew, so did its law enforcement requirements …and Mike’s reputation as consummate professional and leader. He was elected twice as president of the California District Attorneys Association and also elected vice-president of the National District Attorneys Association.
It was meant to be. After all, his father was the chief of police in Susanville, California, and his uncle the sheriff of Lassen County. Several of Mike’s senior deputy DAs became judges, and you can be sure they were much better jurists presiding over criminal trials, thanks to their training in the Ventura County DA’s office.
Mike and I came to be close friends and colleagues in our shared determination to make California a much safer place—saferto raise a family, to work late in your small business, or to walk byyourself from your job as a late-shift waitress to your car in a darkened garage or to a lonely bus stop. When I was elected mayorof San Diego, I insisted our city charter be amended to require that the first call upon the city budget be for public safety, for fire and police protection. It reflected my concern that we must beef up public safety protection in a state that had become dangerous because of lenient criminal justice laws. Sentences imposed for violent crimes put dangerous thugs back on the streets with much too little deterrent effect to prevent serious repeat offenses.
When I was elected governor in 1990, I worked with Mike andthe California District Attorneys Association and with crime victims’ organizations, on legislation, including ballot measures, sovoters could secure reforms that liberal legislative committeeswould otherwise not pass. I was the first governor in the nation to sign into law the Three Strikes bill that imposed much stiffer sentences upon repeat serious offenders. For good measure, the public adopted the statute as an initiative to prevent legislative changes.
But now it appears we are back to the bad old days that inspiredthe desperately needed reforms of the ’80s and ’90s. For that reason alone, the people of California and America need Mike’s book. Those who have had enough of the lawless looting and violence in once great American cities must learn the tragic error of defunding their police departments. Failure to support good cops is to choose a tragically high risk of victimhood for our families and loved ones.
May Mike’s book be a best-seller.
Pete Wilson, Governor, State of California, 1991-1999 Los Angeles October 2021
THE STORIES YOU ARE about to read are true. Some of the names have been changed to protect reputations and, in a few isolated cases, innocence and privacy. In rare cases, fake names were assigned because we were unsure of the real names. Yet with all that said, most of those who were guilty are named here. Them we didn’t protect.
There is something else really important to remember: the stories are factual and accurate. They are the stories that come from my 33 years as a prosecutor in Ventura County, California.
Also, readers are cautioned this book deals with some difficult subject matters and, as a result, the cases discussed and the language used can at times be daunting. For this, we apologize in advance, but please be mindful that if we had sanitized our storytelling, we would have changed the way events really happened. Cops and prosecutors often find humor in situations that would horrify most folks. Trust us, it’s a way of coping.
Writing this book has largely been a pleasurable walk down memory lane, although it has brought back some sadness as well. It was designed to give you a glimpse into another world, one frequently distorted by popular media and culture. Our hope is that it makes you laugh in places, while also preserving, to a small extent anyway, some of the history of a great district attorney’s office and the people who launched their careers there.
Michael Bradbury Ojai, California October 2021
excerpts from the book
…. It is not easy telling someone they are going to die, and that death is imminent. I choked up for a moment but when I saw the physician give me a disgusted look, I lifted her hand and held it in both of mine. “Mrs. Levy, You are dying. You are going to die. Do you understand?” ….There was no response., but Shari’s right eyelid began to try to quiver… as she tried to get a look at the asshole who had the nerve to say such a thing… Her lips pursed together… Finally she was able to respond in a raspy whisper. “The fuck I am.”
Lockwood Watering Hole
…He was exceptionally dangerous, having killed at least two people that I knew of, and one was a bank guard. I reached under the seat for my .45-caliber Colt 1911 pistol. It wasn’t there. He was coming closer and would be at my truck in seconds. I urgently reached back further, felt the grips, and wrapped my hands around the .45, pulling it from where it had slid away… He thrust his hand into the open driver’s window of my truck… “No hard feelings” he said as he looked me in the eyes with a cold steely glare… I looked back with the best cold, steely stare I could muster. “I don’t shake hands with killers,” I said.
Mafia, Country Music Star and Geraldo Converge
…Sonny moved in on the woman and was pouring her a glass of wine when the boyfriend came storming back in. Apparently the “talk” from Sonny’s goons didn’t quite take. He went for Sonny, yelling at him to get away from his girlfriend. Sonny stood, grabbed the wine bottle by the neck and broke it over the table, splattering wine on the young woman and himself. Then he struck the boyfriend across the face with the jagged glass and just about ripped the kid’s face off…
…The crime lab had already been dispatched to our location when we heard a radio call redirecting it. A body had been found in Grimes Canyon and the watch commander determined it was the priority. I told Bill to ask if the body was missing any vital parts… The radio crackled and the voice of the watch commander replied, “Yeah, as a matter of fact, the guy’s lost his head.”
I Knew He Was the Killer
…A few days before they were to leave, he sat on a rock overlooking Simi Valley. It was high in the hills not far from the old missile base. He knew how to get in and out quietly without disturbing people who lived nearby… He’d taken several girlfriends up there… This time, though, he brought a spade. He dug a rectangular shaped hole in the ground, about three feet wide, six feet long and five feet deep…. It was to ne her final resting place, at least for a few years….
It Shook Me to the Core
I had visited several of the California prisons for a couple of reasons. I figured, if I was going to send people there, I should know what they were like and what they can do to and for inmates. I hadn’t been too impressed with what I’d seen. Folsom and San Quentin were probably the most interesting. They seemed like prisons from another era… probably because they were. If you knew how to play the game you frequently came out more ruthless and cunning than when you went in… Our suspect was a little different, though. He hadn’t been released; he’d escaped… and his first thoughts were on how he could victimize another woman.