By Mark Gutglueck
A topic of conversation has emerged among the county’s prosecutors as to whether Assistant District Attorney Mary Ashley will take a voluntary demotion and commensurate pay cut to the status of deputy district attorney before the end of the year, shortly after which Mike Ramos will depart as San Bernardino County’s top prosecutor.
If Ashley remains as assistant district attorney after District Attorney-elect Jason Anderson assumes office in the first week of 2019, she is very likely to be handed a pink slip, as senior members of the district attorney’s office’s managerial echelon have no civil service protection and serve at the will of the elected district attorney. For a multiplicity of reasons, Ashley would be ill-cast as a member of Anderson’s management team. Thus it may behoove her to reduce her standing within the office prior to Anderson’s ascendancy to the position of district attorney, such that she will occupy a post that affords her civil service protection.
Ashley was promoted to the assistant district attorney’s position in November 2014, solely at the discretion of current District Attorney Mike Ramos. Ramos, who was first elected district attorney in 2002, reelected without opposition in 2006, handily reelected in 2010 against two challengers and again reelected by a safe margin against a single opponent in 2014, encountered the stiffest competition of his political career earlier this year in the 2018 June Primary in the personage of Jason Anderson, a former Ontario City Councilman and deputy prosecutor under Ramos and his predecessor, former District Attorney Dennis Stout. In a straight head-to-head contest, Anderson defeated Ramos, 128,127 votes or 52.16 percent to 117,501 votes or 47.84 percent.
Anderson is known to have differences with Ramos in terms of prosecutorial priorities and focus. He has given no direct public indication of his intention with regard to what his staffing decisions will be once he assumes the top county prosecutor’s position in January. Those in the office’s senior administrative and management positions are essentially at-will employees who serve at the pleasure of the district attorney, who has unilateral discretion to promote the office’s deputy prosecutors as he or she sees fit and to fill in the management team with individuals who evince an attitude and approach in keeping with his or her philosophy and standards in terms of prosecutorial goals and objectives. The single limitation on a district attorney’s discretion in this regard is the willingness of the board of supervisors to fund the staffing positions requested.
There is substantial uncertainty as to whether Anderson will be amenable to keeping two of the three assistant district attorneys serving under Ramos – Gary Roth and Michael Fermin – as part of his staff. While both Fermin and Roth have proven themselves entirely adaptable to Ramos’s ethos, his way of doing things and his priorities that may not be entirely in keeping with the tenor of the office that Anderson envisages, both possess a gravitas and level of legal prowess that Anderson may want to keep. If Roth and Fermin prove ready to change course with Anderson once he is in place, they may survive the transition, though there is some question, indeed doubt, as to whether Anderson will be willing to keep them in their current capacities as assistant district attorneys.
With Ashley, however, there appears decidedly little prospect that Anderson would be willing to keep her with the office in any capacity if he has any say in the matter. This is an outgrowth of the culture within the office in which Ashley flourished, one that is inimical to the overarching standard of conduct and professional prosecutorial decorum Anderson espoused in his successful run for district attorney.
At the basis of that clash of cultures is Ramos’ celebrated penchant for womanizing, in particular involving the office’s staff members, and the consideration that Ashley’s promotion to assistant district attorney was a direct outgrowth of that culture. Ashley was one of those employees with whom Ramos became involved, and she has capitalized by distinguishing herself from his other liaisons by cementing their relationship into a more permanent one by becoming his mistress.
Ramos has a recognized history of engaging in trysts with district attorney’s office employees, some of whom have attempted and on occasion succeeded in using their relationship with him to promote themselves professionally. Even prior to his election as district attorney in 2002, Ramos’s liaisons with many different women when he was employed as a deputy prosecutor under then-District Attorney Dennis Stout were known to some of his colleagues. After he assumed the post of district attorney, his activity accelerated with his elevation in status and became much more widely known, as his relationships with three of his own deputy prosecutors, two of his office’s evidence technicians and two of his office’s clerks scandalized the office. In May of 2009, the brewing calumny fully manifested when Ramos was publicly linked with a dozen women to whom he was not married, one of whom included the county’s then-public defender, Doreen Boxer.
Ashley, a deputy prosecutor in the district attorney’s office whose area of practice by the early 2000s had narrowed in large measure to prosecuting so-called crimes against children, had herself garnered something of an intra-office amorous reputation, though by comparison to that of Ramos, it was far more sedate. Nevertheless, her fraternization with her male colleagues resulted in a degree of embarrassment to those with whom she worked and complication within the office and with regard to its function.
Working in large measure out of the Victorville Courthouse at that time, Ashley was married to one of her prosecutorial colleagues, then-San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Alex Martinez, who eventually went on to become a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge. David Mazurek was also a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office. An affair between Ashley and Mazurek ensued. Ultimately, both Mazurek’s and Ashley’s marriages ended in divorce, but not before Mazurek was appointed to the San Bernardino County Superior Court by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.
As a consequence, potentially career-complicating difficulty for both developed, as Mazurek heard criminal cases at the Victorville Courthouse, in which the district attorney’s office had a branch office from which Ashley worked as the lead attorney for the Family Violence Unit in Victorville, either directly handling or overseeing the prosecution of crimes against children, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse. Neither ever disclosed to defendants Ashley was prosecuting or their attorneys the relationship she had with the judge, even when their cases were routed into Mazurek’s courtroom. This matter resolved itself, temporarily, when in January 2008 Ashley left Victorville for Joshua Tree, where she became the supervising prosecutor for the district attorney’s office there. But that conflict resumed and intensified thirteen months later, when in February 2009, Mazurek was assigned to the Yucca Valley Courthouse.
Within three months, rumors began to circulate about the relationship between Mazurek and Ashley, with concern growing that it was highly improper for her to be overseeing any elements of the prosecutor’s office’s function in Yucca Valley while her paramour was hearing the cases she and the deputy district attorneys she supervised were prosecuting. On May 7, 2009, the subject of Mazurek’s bias was openly broached during a court proceeding, prompting him to claim, on the record, “And so the record is clear as far as bias goes, I am new to this courthouse. I am new to this community. I don’t live here. I was previously assigned to the Victorville courthouse. I’ve been here maybe two months, three months. I don’t know any of these people. I don’t know any of the parties. I am not familiar with any of the disputes in this region. I don’t know anybody.”
Conveniently ignored in Mazurek’s statement was that he and Ashley had worked together in the district attorney’s office, that he had been a judge in Victorville when she was prosecuting cases or handling matters there, oftentimes within his courtroom, and the nature of their personal relationship.
The relationship between Mazurek and Ashley proved somewhat nettlesome, ultimately requiring the expurgating intervention of then-Assistant Presiding Judge Michael Welch.
In time, the embers between Mazurek and Ashley cooled, and Mazurek remarried, this time to the woman who had been a court reporter in his courtroom.
In the meantime, Ashley went her way. 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. It was not surprising then, that by 2011 she had initiated a relationship, described as blatantly physical, with Ramos.
As his relationship with Ashley was intensifying in the late 2011/early 2012 time frame, Ramos nevertheless sought to be somewhat more discrete than he had been in the past, as one of his relationships with one of the evidence technicians in his office, Cheryl Ristow, devolved into a situation in which she sued Ramos and the county, garnering tremendous adverse publicity and costing the county more than $600,000 in legal fees to disentangle the situation. As it turned out however, the affair with Ashley was exposed when she sent a cellular phone text message to another member of the office, 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 her. The following year 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.
As the 2014 electoral season approached, however, Ramos was facing reelection and found it expedient to present a somewhat more traditional and socially acceptable picture of his domestic situation. Accordingly, in November 2013, with the June 2014 election less than seven months away, he dismissed the divorce pleading. In June 2014, he was reelected. Two months later, in August 2014, the divorce proceedings were renewed.
Two months later, disguising his action as an “office reorganization,” Ramos proposed creating a third assistant district attorney’s position in the office. The following month, November 2014, he presented it to the board of supervisors, who ratified it and funded it. In effectuating the reorganization, he promoted Ashley into the newly created assistant district attorney position, bypassing a multitude of other more experienced and respected prosecutors in the office, most notably 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, based on his 37 years’ experience as a prosecutor, including a decade overseeing the Rancho Cucamonga office. Nearly two dozen prosecutors in the office, all with resumes equal to or surpassing Ashley’s – Michael Abney, Bruce Brown, Rob Brown, Terry Brown, Bob Bulloch, Lewis Cope, Michelle Daly, Gary Fagan, Charles Feibush, Joseph Gaetano, Clark Hansen III, Britt Imes, 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 – were also overlooked.
Within the office, resentment at Ramos’s promotional decision roiled below the surface, and the office’s members complained privately, but none would speak publicly about the matter.
Ashley had made her mark prosecuting cases that involved what were basically clearly cut issues of child, spousal and elder abuses in which the plight of the victims naturally resonated with most jurors. Generally, she had not handled more complex cases which dealt with conflicting evidence or ambiguity. Nor was her strong suit in the administrative realm. But as Ramos’s choice as assistant district attorney, she was thrust into a position of authority and gravitas, and was titularly responsible for hashing out procedural, personnel and legal problems an organization such as the district attorney’s office encounters, many of which she was hard-pressed to assimilate and understand, let alone handle. As such problems languished in want of a solution, bitterness over her advancement in the office simmered, enlarging the perception that Ramos had created a standard under which competence, dedication, expertise and merit are secondary criteria to maintaining a personal relationship with him.
There have been specific examples of action Ashley took in her capacity as assistant district attorney that in the light of public scrutiny reflect poorly upon her, Ramos and the district attorney’s office in general. One of those areas involves an investigation the Redlands Police Department was carrying out into sexual abuse and molestations perpetrated on students within the Redlands Unified School District by teachers with the district. Ramos’s wife, Gretchen, is the executive secretary to the district superintendent. The elected position Ramos held previous to his election as district attorney was that of Redlands Unified School District board member. In the later stages of the Redlands Police Department’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sexual abuse of students, detectives began examining how district officials had proven remiss in responding to reports of what was occurring, had failed to intervene to prevent or head off further abuse and had not reported the crimes of which they were aware to the proper authorities. When those detectives undertook to coordinate their efforts with the district attorney’s office in anticipation of the charges that were to be filed, according to a highly reliable source, Ashley interfered with the progression of the investigation. Reportedly, at one point Ashley told the police department’s investigators that they should not interview the parents of the student victims, which investigators saw as an effort to derail a potential case against the district’s administrators.
Were Ashley to remain in her assistant district attorney position after Anderson accedes to the district attorney’s post, she could be terminated with or without cause at Anderson’s sole discretion, based upon her current status as an at-will employee with no civil service protection. However, were she to return to her previous status as deputy district attorney, Anderson would not be at liberty to simply terminate her. Rather he would need to cite cause in cashiering her, and she would be entitled to contest her severance, which could include a hearing before a civil service panel or administrative hearing officer.
In taking the demotion, Ashley would sustain a significant reduction in salary. At present, she is paid an annual salary of $199,926.35 together with $21,088.21 in augmentation pay and $97,697.02 in yearly benefits, such that she had a total annual compensation package of $318,631.81 in 2017. As a deputy district attorney, her annual salary would drop to the $140,000 range, she would not be able to count on much in the way of augmentation pay and her benefits would likely be reduced to somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year. Though voluntarily retreating to the status of a line prosecutor would entail an annual pay reduction of $100,000 or perhaps slightly more, she would remain employed in the public sector and thus continue to accumulate ongoing time credit toward drawing a pension, which utilizes a formula by which the employee is entitled to a pension equal to the number of years employed in the public sector times 2.5 percent multiplied by the employee’s highest annual salary. It would thus be in Ashley’s long-term interest to remain with the district attorney’s office.
At press time, no announcement relating to Ashley returning to her status as a deputy district attorney had been made. The department’s official spokesman, Christopher Lee, who is authorized to speak on Ramos’s behalf as well as for Ashley, declined to expound on whether Ashley will seek a demotion in rank.
By Mark Gutglueck