Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten will retire Jan. 9 to take a job in Sacramento training prosecutors, his office announced Nov. 10.
Totten will become chief executive officer of the California District Attorney’s Assn., which helps new prosecutors learn the ropes of the profession as well as working with lawmakers to shape policy.
“My initial reaction was to laugh (the job offer) off,” Totten said in a Nov. 18 phone conversation with VIDA Newspaper. “But after discussing it with my wife, the more I reflected on it, it seemed like a good time to take on a new challenge.”
Because laws changed a lot during former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, Totten said, training programs in turn have become vitally important to guaranteeing fair prosecutions.
“We operate in a dynamic environment; training is critical to maintaining the highest standards in prosecution,” because prosecutors have the authority to deprive people of liberty, Totten said.
Another reason he feels comfortable making the move is that he has assembled a capable group of prosecutors who are already running things smoothly, Totten said.
“We have a great team, things are going very well, we’ve opened up the Family Justice Center,” Totten said, referring to the office his department launched in November 2019.
The Ventura County Family Justice Center is a one-stop shop designed to save victims of crime—especially of domestic violence—from having to repeat traumatic stories as they go to multiple agencies.
“(Victims) ran a gauntlet, from the police department, to the hospital, to the DA’s office for an interview and then a shelter, to get the full compliment of services,” from as many as 40 different agencies, Totten said.
“We navigate victims through the services they want, that they need,” Totten said. “They may have immigration, divorce, custody issues; we have lawyers on staff to help them get restraining orders.”
For children there is a virtual summer camp-like program called Camp Hope with a curriculum designed to help them cope with their situation, Totten said.
“Children who grow up in violent homes are much more at risk to grow up with substance abuse and other issues,” Totten said. “We give them tools for dealing with life so that it can be something better.
“Children exposed to violence often don’t have that hope,” Totten said. “We build self-esteem, from my standpoint, it’s a huge milestone.”
Totten said he is also particularly proud of his office’s success prosecuting real estate fraud, which skyrocketed during the 2008 recession and targeted the Hispanic community.
“We saw unprecedented amounts of fraudulent loan applications and seizures of titles,” Totten said, with people who spoke only Spanish being forced to fill out paperwork that was entirely in English.
“We set out to establish a partnership with the real estate industry and root out unscrupulous actors,” Totten said. “We’ve been very aggressive in going after real estate fraud.”
Totten, 66, has spent his entire career with the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, beginning in 1981 as a summer clerk while still a Pepperdine University law student. He joined the office in Fall 1982 after graduating.
Among high-profile cases Totten prosecuted was the 1991 conviction of Gregory Scott Smith for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a Northridge boy, 8-year-old Paul Bailly. Smith is now on Death Row.
Totten became chief assistant district attorney in 1999, and was elected district attorney in 2002, succeeding Michael Bradbury, who had been district attorney since 1979.
One of his office’s most controversial decisions came in 2014 when Totten announced charges would not be filed against five Oxnard police officers who mistakenly shot 21-year-old Alfonso Limon.
Limon was killed in 2012 when he accidently jogged past a traffic stop that erupted into a gunfight between officers and gang members.
Re-elected five times, most recently in 2018, Totten got to see the resolution of a case from early in his career, the unsolved 1980 murders of Charlene and Lyman Smith in Ventura.
As a clerk Totten helped connect their murders to others attributed to a serial killer called the Golden State Killer.
In 2018, he attended the Sacramento press conference where investigators announced DNA evidence had led to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo as the long sought after killer. DeAngelo pleaded guilty.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Cheryl Temple, who has said she intends to run for district attorney in 2022, is expected to take over for Totten and complete his term.