A 46-year-old Orange County deputy district attorney and prospective state Assembly candidate has died of COVID-19 complications, friends said Monday.
Kelly Ernby died Sunday. She specialized in environmental and consumer law and joined the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in October 2011, after being an associate with the Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher firm from 2002 through 2011.
“I have a huge pit in my stomach right now, and I am so sad for our loss,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in an email to staff.
Ernby received a promotion about one month ago and “had one rung to go on the promotion ladder,” Assistant District Attorney Shawn Nelson told City News Service.
Nelson said she was well-liked and had the type of personality to be close to Spitzer as well as Susan Kang, who was chief of staff for Spitzer’s predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, who was ousted by Spitzer in 2018 following a bitter campaign.
“She could not have been more supportive of Todd and his efforts,” Nelson said. “And yet, to this day, she remained very close friends with Susan.”
Kang told City News Service she was still stunned by the news.
“She was going to announce her candidacy this week for Assembly,” Kang said.
Ernby was a political novice when she sought Kang’s help in her campaign for the 74th Assembly District seat in 2020. Ernby finishing last in the three-candidate primary with 22.4%. Fellow Republican Diane Dixon, a Newport Beach councilwoman, was second with 25.2%.
Democrat Cottie Petrie-Norris defeated Dixon, 50.5%-49.5%, in the general election to win a second term.
Kang said Ernby was “instrumental in a case that we did against a fetal tissue clinic” that was accused of illegally making a profit of fetal tissue sales.
“Without her I don’t know if we would have gotten the results we did on that case,” Kang said. “But she was the type of person if you gave her a case she was like a dog on a bone.”
Nelson and Kang said Ernby argued cases several times before the state Supreme Court.
Nelson remarked how Ernby won a case before the state’s high court that none of the other prosecutors in California thought was winnable.
“It’s just tragic,” Nelson said of her death. “She was such a go-getter. She was really sharp.”
Kang remembered fondly the trips the two would go on.
“We would spend a lot of fun times together,” she said. “She was a really fun-loving girl. She was very positive. She saw the best in things and I know she really wanted to become an elected official and for that reason.”
Ernby received a bachelor’s degree in biological science from UC Santa Barbara in 1997. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of San Diego School of Law in 2002, according to her LinkedIn page.
Ernby received a master’s degree in public administration from USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy in 2013.
Ernby is survived by her husband, Axel.