Jan Scully ’73 (Government/Journalism)

2015 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

Published by Sacramento State's Office of Public Affairs

Made at Sac State and the Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate the success and impact of Sacramento State through the inspirational stories of our graduates, both established and emerging. Jan Scully was chosen for her impact as a leader in the Sacramento community.

A sound education and a resolve gained from decades of success made Jan Scully ’73 (Government/Journalism) a trailblazer, and an impactful leader in the Sacramento community.

Scully retired from her post as Sacramento County District Attorney last year after 20 years as the county’s top prosecutor. She is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sac State Alumni Association for her ongoing dedication to helping people in her hometown.

Scully may not think of herself as a pioneer, but when she was elected district attorney in 1994, she was the first female to serve as the top prosecutor in any major county in California. She was considered an outsider when the race for the DA position started, but her integrity and professionalism carried her to victory.

“I think it was part naiveté and part idealism that prompted me to run,” Scully says. “I was a deputy in the office and I had some ideas of things I’d like to do. We worked hard. It was a grassroots campaign.”

In a world of mostly male law enforcement officers, legislators and attorneys, she worked hard to reach the top. Dealing with a personal tragedy took even more courage. Scully’s husband died of a heart attack just nine days after she was elected DA. She took time off and when she began her new job, she found that work helped ease the pain.

“There were definitely some tough days, but I had something to focus on and that helped,” Scully says.

Throughout her career, Scully focused on seeking justice for victims, and the community as a whole, which is why she co-founded the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center. It’s a collaborative effort to combine the resources of existing programs to provide assistance for victims of domestic violence and abuse.

“If someone is in that situation (of domestic violence), there are so many things they need that if they try to do it all themselves, they usually give up,” Scully says. “Instead of having all these entities competing against one another the Family Justice Center helps them all work together and brings them all under one roof.”

Sac State faculty members are lending their expertise and students are volunteering for community service projects to help the Center take shape. Scully is excited to be re-engaged with the campus community.

As a student, she had a full schedule. While studying government/journalism Scully maintained a job with the state, eventually working as an editorial technician for CalTrans. A constitutional law class at Sac State piqued her interest in a career as an attorney and she studied at Lincoln School of Law before landing a position as a Sacramento County deputy district attorney in 1979.

Looking back, Scully says her Sac State education helped her in many ways.

“At first I was interested in investigative reporting—I wanted to be a Nancy Drew-type,” she says. “As an attorney, you have to write well so that was great preparation for me. In my constitutional law class I really learned there are no black and white cases. It was really stimulating and engaging.”

Throughout her 35 years in the district attorney’s office, she never lost sight of her calling.

“I always wanted to be relevant and I was always moved by the idea of seeking justice,” Scully says. “It’s great to be able to go to work and do the right thing every day, and try to make a difference in your community.”