Chief assistant county counsel to take over after Ghizzoni’s retirement

Staff Report 

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has selected Chief Assistant County Counsel Rachel Van Mullem as the next county counsel upon the retirement of Michael Ghizzoni on June 27.  Her formal appointment was approved on Tuesday, May 18, at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

By statute, the county counsel is the legal adviser to the Board of Supervisors to advance and defend the county’s civil policies and actions by looking ahead, advising and providing options, and litigating. The county counsel office works closely with the Board of Supervisors and other county officers to maintain the civil legal integrity of the county. 

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Van Mullem was selected after a competitive process and nationwide search. She comes to this role with 20 years of California county counsel experience and has served as chief assistant county counsel for Santa Barbara County since 2014.

“Rachel is a strong government legal professional who is well-versed in public law, but also has been immersed in our local county government and communities for more than 14 years,” said Board Chair Bob Nelson, Fourth District supervisor. “Her proven track record providing practical legal advice on a range of topics will continue to serve our county well. We look forward to continuing the customer focused collaboration and teamwork with our county counsel’s office to provide quality public service to our community.”

Van Mullem has been with Santa Barbara County since 2006, serving as deputy county counsel from 2006-10; senior deputy county counsel from 2010-12; chief deputy county counsel from 2012-14; and as chief assistant county counsel since 2014. Previously, she worked for the Ventura county counsel office from 2001-06. Van Mullem received a Juris Doctorate degree from Penn State University, Dickson School of Law; and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska.

“I am deeply honored to be selected as county counsel and to serve Santa Barbara County in this new role,” said Van Mullem. “We have a top-quality team at county counsel, and we look forward to continuing to provide the county with exceptional legal services. I am especially grateful to county counsel Mike Ghizzoni for his leadership and support in all my years with county counsel’s office.”  

Van Mullem has a background in both litigation and advisory work. Since becoming chief assistant, she has overseen the day-to-day operations of the county counsel office, including overseeing complex civil litigation, advisory work and standard litigation. She has assisted the county on high-profile, fast-moving projects and emergency work including the Jesusita Fire, Tea Fire, Thomas Fire, 1/9 Debris Flow, Conception dive boat fire and COVID-19 pandemic. She also has served as lead attorney for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), Air Pollution Control District (APCD), County Planning Commission and Montecito Planning Commission. 

The Santa Barbara County counsel’s office has a fiscal year 2020-21 operating budget of $9.935 million with 41 full time employees. Ghizzoni has served as county counsel since 2013. He came to the county after an established career of 24 years in the United States Coast Guard as a captain, with assignments in operations and law.

Ghizzoni is credited for successful oversight of the county counsel’s Office for the last eight years, when the county regularly prevailed in complex litigation cases in Superior Court, the District Court of Appeals, and the California State Supreme Court.

“Mike has expertly guided the county through complicated legal issues involving land use, disaster response, assessment appeals, water contracts, cannabis, jail improvements, and everything in between,” said Nelson. “We are grateful to him for his commitment to the Board and unsurpassed work ethic.”

 “We’ll miss Mike’s superb legal mind, dedication to his work, and clarity of thought,” County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato added,  I’ve enjoyed working with him these last eight years, and particularly his great wit. We all wish him well in his retirement.”

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