The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this week voted to dramatically increase the depth and intensity of a sexual harassment investigation the county is carrying out against district attorney Michael Ramos.
Since he was sworn in as district attorney in 2003 following his electoral victory the previous year, Ramos has garnered a reputation for profligate womanizing, in large measure by enjoying the company of several women employed in various capacities in his office, from evidence technicians to deputy prosecutors.
Because of the authority of his position and the power he embodied, Ramos was extended a degree of protection and insulation from wide public exposure of these dalliances.
In 2006, Ramos’s licentiousness loomed momentarily into public view when accounts circulated of how he had engaged in a drunken show of physicality with the newly hired public defender, Doreen Boxer, in an elevator in front of more than a half dozen witnesses at the city county conference at the Lake Arrowhead .Resort. The board of supervisors, which included at least one of the witnesses to the display between Ramos and Boxer, privately upbraided Boxer, an appointed rather than an elected official, over the incident. Ramos received no such rebuke, however.
The board’s failure to hold the district attorney to account served only to embolden him and by early this year he had been linked with nearly a dozen women his job brought him into contact with, including former deputy district attorney Ann Marie Duncan; Kelly Snelling, who worked as Ramos’ campaign manager and treasurer; deputy district attorney Jane Allen; deputy district attorney Beth Houser; deputy district attorney Denise Yoakum; Brenda Rossi, a paralegal; Cheryl Barnes, an investigative technician; and Suzanne Hunter, a training consultant for the California District Attorneys Association.
Since that time, the name of yet another district attorney’s office employee with whom Ramos is alleged to have been intimate – Cynthia Shaum – has emerged. Shaum has denied that she is in a relationship with Ramos.
Despite the surfacing of this information, Ramos appeared poised to ride out whatever difficulty those revelations represented. In July, however, he was overtaken by events when Barnes, who had previously denied having been involved with her boss, went public with her claim that between September 2003 and February 2005, she had engaged in a tempestuous and carnal relationship with Ramos.
Barnes, who has since changed her name, said she was forced to go public after Ramos and other members of the department, including sworn investigatores, had begun harassing her in an effort to dampen the scandal.
Barnes went on stress leave on July 7, a departure from the workplace that was necessitated by an atmosphere of intimidation that began in June, shortly after a major press exposé about Ramos’ several illicit relationships, including the one with Barnes.
At that time, Barnes learned that her work performance was under “administrative review.” The ostensible reason for that review, which had the possibility of being a precursor to discipline, demotion or firing, was not disclosed.
A further demonstration that the district attorney’s office’s administration was seeking to “make book” on her came on July 6 when a supervisor made written notation of her alleged violation of the office’s dress code. Sworn officers
Barnes had previously gotten along well in her function as an evidence technician with the office and was widely considered by her colleagues to be a competent employee known to be on good terms with Ramos.
This summer’s turn of events in which Barnes found herself to be on the outs with her employer came as a second personal challenge in the last several years. In the 2005-2006 time frame, Barnes was stricken with symptoms consistent with breast cancer. She then underwent testing, including a tissue biopsy to obtain a confirmed diagnosis. Those tests would subsequently show that the initial interpretation of the symptoms was erroneous. While the biopsy and its benign finding had yet to be completed and reported back to her by her physician, Barnes encountered Ramos in a semi-private setting.
Upon informing her boss of the health challenge she believed she was facing, Ramos reportedly attempted to commiserate with her about her dilemma, saying what a shame the situation was since she was so perfectly endowed. Though the most physically intensive phase of his relationship with Barnes had already ended, Ramos asked her if he could see her breasts one last time.
This incensed Barnes.
Around June of this year, Ramos began to frantically seek to minimize further revelations about his womanizing . Perceiving Barnes to be a potential weak link in the effort to keep the series of affairs he had engaged in under wraps, Ramos had Barnes’ immediate superiors and some of his office’s investigators put pressure on her in an effort to ensure her silence.
After Barnes went public with her story in early August, Ramos publicly responded, saying he had not had a sexual relationship with her.
Barnes’ officially-lodged complaint triggered a human resources investigation into the matter. Both human services director Andrew Lamberto and county counsel Ruth Stringer sought the assistance of the Los Angeles-based law firm Curiale Hirschfield Kraemer, in carrying out the investigation.
Reportedly, Barnes has marshaled several pieces of incontrovertible evidence to demonstrate that Ramos was most certainly either engaged in a series of sexually charged encounters with Barnes or was otherwise interacting with her at times and places and in degrees of frequency that were way out of keeping with what would normally be expected of the relatively few, limited and casual contacts that would ensue between an elected district attorney and someone occupying the position of evidence technician.
The investigation has now spread into areas beyond the affair involving Barnes, raising issues that could prove very problematic for the district attorney.
County counsel Ruth Stringer and human resources director Andrew Lamberto indicated that the $65,000 in additional funding, bringing the amount of money Curiale Hirschfield Kraemer will receive to $140,000, will allow investigators to complete the investigation. County officials have so far authorized $75,000 for the investigative work.
In a report to the board prior to the authorization of the additional $65,000 in spending, Stringer stated, “After interviewing several highly qualified firms, the firm of Curiale Hirschfield Kraemer LLP was selected based on their very high level of qualifications and experience in conducting similar kinds of investigations. Based on the projected costs to complete the investigation, the firm was initially retained through a purchase order in the amount of $75,000.
However, as the investigation has proceeded, its nature has become more complex, and the estimated costs to complete the investigation now exceed the allowable amount for a purchase order. Approval of this item will result in a contract in an amount not to exceed $140,000 and allow the firm to complete the investigation. Approval of this item will result in $140,000 in additional general fund financing. The contract will be funded through general fund contingencies, and will be paid out of the litigation budget unit, which provides funding for external attorney services and other litigation related expenses.”
Ramos was unavailable for comment this week. Previously, however, he characterized reports of his having had multiple affairs with women in and out of his office as “absolutely ridiculous.”