(November 14) By Mark Gutglueck
District Attorney Mike Ramos is maneuvering to create a third assistant district attorney position in his department, into which he intends to promote his live-in mistress, multiple sources within the district attorney’s office have told the Sentinel.
Ramos’s move, coming just after last week’s 2014 General Election, and six months after Ramos was himself reelected to a fourth term as the county’s top prosecutor in the June primary election, has shocked and angered a wide cross section of the professionals employed by the office he heads. While several of those prosecutors expressed themselves in strong terms while commenting about the situation off the record, none was willing to speak for attribution, given the absolute authority the district attorney has in operating his office.
Ramos’ effort to promote Mary Ashley to the assistant district attorney’s post has been taken as a particular insult to five of the department’s most seasoned and advanced prosecutors, each of whom has considerably more courtroom and supervisory experience than Ashley.
One venerable prosecutor with 37 years in the office, John Kochis, who was widely viewed by his colleagues to be the most logical candidate for promotion to an open assistant district attorney’s position were such a position to emerge, put in for retirement when word of Ashley’s pending ascendency shot through the office two weeks ago. His last day with the department is today.
Members of the prosecutor’s office said Ashley, who was hired as a deputy prosecutor under former district attorney Dennis Stout in 1998, did reasonably competent work in prosecuting sexual crimes against children as well as crimes involving violence against women and children after she was assigned to head the Victorville office of the district attorney’s newly-formed Family Violence Unit in 2004. She remained in that capacity until 2007.
At that time, Ashley bounded, at Ramos’s apparent direction, over more than two dozen of her colleagues with greater and more varied prosecutorial experience when she was promoted to supervising deputy district attorney overseeing selected prosecutions in the San Bernardino, Victorville and Joshua Tree offices.
Members of the office report that at that stage Ashley was believed to have been involved in a casual but non-exclusive physical relationship with Ramos, who since he had become district attorney in 2003, had extramarital affairs with no fewer than eight of his department’s employees. Adverse publicity about Ramos’s dalliances had proven problematic for Ramos as well as the county, which in 2009 paid the Santa Monica-based legal firm Curiale Hirschfield Kraemer $140,000 to conduct an investigation into the circumstances pertaining to just one of those, a tryst with former district attorney’s office evidence technician Cheryl Ristow.
Accordingly, Ramos attempted to be discrete about his relationship with Ashley as it was intensifying in the late 2011/early 2012 time frame. As it turned out however, the affair was exposed when Ashley sent a cellular phone text message to another member of the office, deputy district attorney Suzanne Patton, telling her that Ramos was at her residence. Word of Ramos’s liaison with Ashley leaked out from there, spreading to numerous other members of the district attorney’s office, as well as among several judges.
By Summer 2012, office members report, the relationship between Ramos and Ashley had progressed to the point that Ramos was cohabiting with Ashley and he filed for divorce from his wife of nearly three decades. Simultaneously, Ramos was seeking to groom Ashley for further advancement, giving her the prestigious assignment of carrying out the office’s evaluations of officer involved shootings.
Simultaneously, Dennis Christy, who had long served as assistant district attorney, was moving toward retirement. Ramos stood by an earlier commitment that had been made to promote Gary Roth, who had held a wealth of assignments throughout the office and was at that time serving in Victorville as the chief deputy district attorney in the county’s desert division, to assistant district attorney. In turn, it was widely expected throughout the office that supervising deputy district attorney Richard Young, who was then overseeing the Fontana prosecutor’s division, would be tapped to succeed Roth. Young for the previous half decade had been entrusted with several top-tier and high profile prosecutorial assignments, including murder and manslaughter cases, the review of officer involved shootings and delicate matters such as those involving trafficking in child pornography and accusations that a teacher had employed sexual battery perpetrated by some of his students against other students as a classroom disciplinary tool. Moreover, Young had cultivated what appeared to be a strong professional relationship with Ramos by supporting him politically in years past and endorsing other politicians with whom Ramos was aligned.
On July 18, 2012 however, whatever expectations Young had of immediate promotion were dashed when Ramos, in an interoffice memo to all district attorney’s staff, announced that Ashley was being promoted to the position of chief deputy district attorney, effective September 6, 2012.
“Mary will be replacing Gary Roth as the chief deputy district attorney in the desert division,” the memo stated.
Members of the district attorney’s office drew an immediate connection between Ashley’s promotion and her relationship with Ramos. Resentment over her advancement in the office has simmered since, due to the perception that Ramos has created a standard under which competence, dedication, expertise and merit are secondary criteria to maintaining a personal relationship with him. Indications that resentment is boiling over emerged late last week as members of the office began to lash out at their boss In private conversations, precipitated by the announcement of Kochis’s abrupt decision to retire.
While many prosecutors in the course of their conversations with the Sentinel opined that Kochis was the currently employed prosecutor most deserving of being elevated to assistant district attorney, more than twenty other prosecutors, lead prosecutors, supervising prosecutors and chief deputy prosecutors with the office were identified as having prosecutorial, leadership, managerial and organizational talent that exceeded that of Ashley, which rendered them better suited than her to assume the newly created assistant district attorney post. Those mentioned in this regard were: Michael Abney, Bruce Brown, Rob Brown, Terry Brown, Bob Bulloch, Lewis Cope, Michelle Daly, Gary Fagan, Charles Feibush, Joseph Gaetano, Clark Hansen III, Grover Merritt, Kathy Norman, Maureen O’Connell, Doug Poston, James Secord, Reza Sadeghi, Kevin Smith, Denise Trager-Dvorak, Charles Umeda, Ron Webster, Simon Umschied and Richard Young.
Resentment over Ramos’s choice of Ashley is particularly keen among those members of the office assigned to the courthouses in Victorville and Joshua Tree. This is primarily because, her colleagues say, while working in those divisions, Ashley, who was then married to another prosecutor in the office, former deputy district attorney Alex Martinez, initiated an affair with J. David Mazurek, who was formerly a deputy district attorney before he was elevated to a Superior Court judgeship in 2006. Ultimately, the affair ended badly, with Mazurek divorcing his wife and Ashley’s marriage to Martinez breaking up. Martinez was elevated to the bench in 2010. The relationship between Mazurek and Ashley proved somewhat nettlesome for the court when Ashley was overseeing a district attorney’s prosecution unit in Joshua Tree, where Mazurek sat as a judge, requiring the expurgating intervention of then-assistant presiding judge Michael Welch. Among some of her colleagues, particularly woman, Ashley was perceived as a climber who was not above utilizing her sexuality to ingratiate herself with the men in the office or the legal community to advance professionally.
Judge Martinez told the Sentinel, “I will have no comment on issues related to the district attorney’s office.”
Bailiffs at the San Bernardino Justice Center, where Judge Mazurek is now assigned, prevented the Sentinel from accessing him for an interview.
That Ashley is now consolidating her position through an intimate relationship with her boss has damaged the morale and esprit de corps of the district attorney’s office. Many office members were dumbfounded by the memo Ramos issued in which he announced his planned reorganization of the office, including creating the third assistant district attorney’s position to augment current assistant district attorneys Mike Fermin and Gary Roth, and his intention of inserting Ashley into the new post. Those that contacted the Sentinel to alert it to Ramos’s move, as well as members of the office contacted by the Sentinel subsequently, while expressing consternation and dismay privately, refused to speak for the record over concern that voicing such pointed criticism of Ramos and the woman he is appointing to a senior position in the office would harm them professionally.
A recently retired deputy district attorney, Sharon Caldwell, was not so reticent. She spoke openly about the damage Ramos had wreaked upon the office by his reported sexual liaisons, his earlier promotion of Ashley and his latest move to elevate her to assistant district attorney.
“There is no denying his reported rampant womanizing has impacted the office,” Caldwell said. “There are many qualified women who have been working there for years and have impeccable credentials who will not put their names in for promotion because they don’t want to be perceived as having advanced because they were sleeping with Mike Ramos. This is horrific cronyism. As district attorney, he is notorious for promoting people who are not qualified. The people of San Bernardino County deserve much better.”
Ashley was promoted well beyond her level of competence when she was made chief deputy district attorney, Caldwell said.
“She is an embarrassment,” Caldwell said. “She has been an absentee chief deputy. Her idea of leading is to bring cookies and cupcakes for the people in the office. She skips meetings, which is unheard of in an organization like the prosecutor’s office. She is not dealing with the job.”
The most recent decision to promote Ashley was “colossally stupid,” Caldwell said, given her demonstrated lack of judgment and disregard for the reputation and wellbeing of the office. “An example of what I base my judgment of her lack of judgment on was when she was reported to have a dating relationship with Judge Mazurek while supervising prosecutors appearing in his courtroom while they were both in Morongo [i.e., working at the Joshua Tree Courthouse]. They had this relationship while she was supervising the prosecutors who were coming before him every day. We are talking about hundreds of cases during that period. She and he had the obligation to inform the parties who were being prosecuted that she and the judge were in a dating relationship. To my knowledge, that disclosure was never made. I don’t know what would happen if counsel for those defendants who were convicted took that up. It potentially could compromise hundreds of cases. It is hard to believe that Mike Ramos did not know about this. He’s promoting her anyway.”
The vast majority of the office’s employees disapprove of many aspects of Ramos’s comportment and are disturbed by his unabashed promotion of his girlfriend, Caldwell said. “Most everyone knows about them [i.e., Ramos and Ashley],” Caldwell said. “I don’t know anyone in the office who likes it. But no one is going to say anything publicly. People will not stand up to him just to be shipped to Timbuktu and given terrible assignments. He’s a vindictive tyrant.”
She continued, “Ramos has done one outrageous thing after another and nothing has blown up in his face. No one sued him successfully. He just gets bolder and bolder. He thinks he’s bullet-proof. I truly believe that he doesn’t know how bad his decisions are. The entire DA’s office has devolved under his leadership and he doesn’t care.”
A primary check on Ramos is the board of supervisors, which could closely examine his request to determine if adding a third assistant district attorney position to his staff is truly justified and then inquiring about the qualifications of the individual Ramos intends to tap to fill it, and asking about the relative qualifications of any alternative candidates for the position before agreeing to provide him with the funding to carry it through.
“The Board of Supervisors does not buck Ramos that I have ever seen” Caldwell said. “They’re unwilling to question him. I believe that they’re afraid that if they do, he might do something to them. He can file charges against people and let other people do the same conduct and not file. No one wants Ramos to do to them what he did to [Neil] Derry.”
Former supervisor Neil Derry was criminally charged after district attorney’s office investigators, who were interrogating former supervisor/former county assessor Bill Postmus, obtained a statement from him that he had laundered a campaign contribution from Highland developer Arnold Stubblefield to Derry through Postmus’s political action committee. Though he was initially charged with two felonies in that case, Derry stuck a plea bargain with prosecutors in which he was convicted of a misdemeanor campaign reporting violation. That conviction, which was widely trumpeted by his opponent, was a key factor in Derry’s defeat in his run for reelection.
Despite her low estimation of Ramos’s ethics and managerial ability, Caldwell said he was highly skilled in misleading the public.
“Ramos filed for divorce some time ago and was thereafter seen publicly with Mary Ashley,” Caldwell said. “I believe when Ramos felt that he would draw at least one opponent in his bid for re-election, he abandoned the divorce proceeding so that he could sell to the voters that he is a devoted family man married for decades. I told people then that should he win re-election, he would dump his wife and resume his relationship with Mary Ashley. He got reelected and now he’s refiled for divorce and he’s reported to have rekindled his relationship with Mary. He fooled the voters again.”
David Wert, the spokesman for the board of supervisors, told the Sentinel, “The district attorney has notified the board of supervisors that he plans to reorganize his department in response to court closures and his proposal would come to the board perhaps as soon as November 18.”
The reorganization is scheduled to be done very quietly as part of an item on the agenda that does not reference the district attorney’s office but rather several of the county’s park and recreation districts, county service areas, the county flood control district, the county industrial development authority, its joint emergency medical agency, its economic and community development corporations, its in-home supportive services agency and the county fire protection district. In one of the attachments to this item, the first quarter budget report, buried on page 59 under the heading “County Positions Action” is notation that a chief deputy district attorney position – the one currently held by Kochis – is to be deleted and that an assistant district attorney position is to be added. The position is to pay $192,150 in salary. Also shown is that the position will represent a total annual cost to the county of $315,039, which means that Ashley will receive $122,889 in benefits annually in addition to her salary.
The Sentinel made inquiries with the board members to ascertain what information they had been provided with regard to Ramos’s proposed reorganization, including his intention to appoint Ashley to the newly created assistant district attorney’s position.
Don Holland, one of First District supervisor Robert Lovingood’s field representatives, told the Sentinel Lovingood’s office would have no comment on Ramos’s proposal at this time.
Scott Vanhorne, the communications director for Second District Supervisor and Board Chairwoman Janice Rutherford said on November 12 that it was his understanding that Ramos had provided a justification for the reorganization “based upon caseload increases because of the court realignment.”
As to whom Ramos would designate to fill the role of the newly created assistant district attorney, Vanhorne said, “We haven’t got that information. District Attorney is an independently elected office. What he does within his office with his staff is in his realm. The board cannot tell him what staff to put in what positions.”
The board would be able to exercise some discretion with regard to determining whether the new position should be funded, irrespective of who fills it, Vanhorne said. “When it comes to budget requests for additional funding for staff, whether it be the sheriff, the DA, the assessor or treasurer, the board takes a look at it to see whether it wants to approve additional monies for staffing.”
Vanhorne said that Rutherford and the other supervisors have “probably spoken to the district attorney about this. I do know that (assistant district attorney) Mike Fermin has spoken with district staff about the new staffing needs the DA has.”
Precisely how the reorganization Ramos is proposing shapes up is not known to the board at this point, Vanhorne said.
“No one has seen what is going before the board,” he said.
There are two legal considerations why Ramos’s promotion of Ashley might be ill-advised and legally problematic.
One of those is the legal precedent set in the case Edna Miller et al v. Department of Corrections, which resulted in a precedent setting ruling by the California Supreme Court relating to favoritism to a governmental employee based on a relationship with her boss.
In Miller v. Department of Corrections, two former employees of the Valley State Prison for Women, Edna Miller and Frances Mackey, claimed that the warden of the prison at which they were employed accorded unwarranted favorable treatment to numerous female employees with whom the warden was having sexual affairs and that such conduct constituted sexual harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The California Supreme Court ruled that employees passed over as Miller and Mackey were had grounds to sue the state and the Department of Corrections for both income lost and punitive damages.
The other legal consideration is Government Code Section 1090, which reads: “Members of the Legislature, state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members. Nor shall state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees be purchasers at any sale or vendors at any purchase made by them in their official capacity.”
To the extent that Ramos and Ashley have created a household together and have commingled their finances, any increase made to Ashley’s pay upon a recommendation or action by Ramos in his elected and official capacity would appear to run afoul of Government Code Section 1090.
District attorney’s office spokesman Christopher Lee did not respond to telephonic and written requests from the Sentinel for input for this article and requested interviews with Ramos and Ashley were not granted.
(November 14) By Mark Gutglueck