January 8, 2009

A former district attorney’s office evidence technician has filed a $1.538 million claim against San Bernardino County and district attorney Mike Ramos, alleging she was mistreated and subjected to first a hostile work environment and then a pretext firing in the aftermath of revelations that she had carried on an affair with Ramos that ended nearly five years ago.

Cheryl Ristow, who had worked with the district attorney’s office under her former name, Cheryl Barnes, in the capacity of evidence technician prior to Ramos’ election as district attorney embarked on a torrid affair with Ramos that terminated in February 2005.

On May 29, 2009, the Sentinel published an article that delineated in some detail womanizing on Ramos’ part, including affairs or alleged affairs involving seven of his employees, including Ristow [who was identified as Cheryl Barnes in the article], as well as San Bernardino County Public Defender Doreen Boxer and a California District Attorney’s Association employee, Suzanne Hunter.

On December 29, 2009, Ristow, of Redlands, filed a claim with the county by certified mail. In that claim, Ristow stated, “Claimant and district attorney Michael A. Ramos were involved in an intimate relationship for approximately 3.5 years and ending in 2005. On numerous occasions Ramos attempted to continue the relationship beyond 2005. Until the instant issue the claimant and Ramos continued a distant working relationship. In late May 2009, Ramos contacted claimant through Supervising Deputy District Attorney Mike Fermin. Fermin asked claimant to call Ramos. During the call Ramos told claimant revelations of their relationship was about to be published in a local newspaper.

Ramos told claimant ‘We just don’t talk about it.’”

In her claim, Ristow further stated, “The information regarding the relationship was published. How Ramos knew of the pending publication is unknown. In June 2009, claimant became upset and attempted to contact Ramos by leaving three messages on Ramos’ cell phone voice mail. The next day Ramos changed his cell phone number. Ramos routinely changes his cell phone numbers when his relationships with woman go astray. In June 2009, claimant asked chief investigator Smith for some advice on the situation. After the meeting with Smith claimant was subjected to disciplinary write-ups for things that in the past were trivial. In June / July 2009, Senior Investigator M. Williams from the public integrity unit told claimant if she came forward it would tank the Erwin case. Williams told claimant she didn’t have to testify in any civil proceeding.”

Ristow’s reference to the Erwin case pertains to a criminal filing made against Jim Erwin, a former sheriff’s deputy and head of the sheriff’s deputies union, who also served in the capacity of assistant assessor under Bill Postmus and subsequently was chief of staff to supervisor Neil Derry.

Ristow’s claim continues, “On July 6, 2009, claimant went on stress leave and has not returned to work since, except to gather a few items from her desk. In August 2009, claimant came forward to the office of county supervisor Neil Derry and lodged a complaint of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and work place retaliation against the district attorney.

When the news of claimant’s complaint was made public, Ramos accused claimant of lying and issued a categorical denial. Ramos also said claimant’s allegations were politically motivated. In October 2009, when claimant went to her workstation at the district attorneys office, claimant found her desk cleaned off and her workstation nameplate was removed. A supervisor and another employee were required to observe claimant and helped claimant pack all of her property.”

The claim continues, “The county of San Bernardino contracted with the Santa Monica, California law firm of Curiale, Hirschfeld, and Kraemer to investigate claimant’s allegations. The now completed investigative report is incorporated in this claim by reference. In addition to monetary damages, claimant has also suffered physical and emotional trauma due to the manner in which the office of the district attorney has treated her.”

In her claim, Ristow said she was seeking $1,530,000 in in compensatory and other damages for the “negligence, constructive discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, personal injury, defamation, slander, creating a hostile work environment, sexual harassment and workplace retaliation.

Those named in the claim as having perpetrated the misdeeds Ristow alleged were the county of San Bernardino, Mike Ramos, supervising district attorney Michael Fermin and chief district attorney investigator Michael Smith.

The notation of Femin in the claim is of significance in that it implicates him as an alleged accessory in the womanizing scandal besetting Ramos. Rumors have been circulating that Fermin is being considered as the named replacement for Ramos in the event that Ramos tenders his resignation or, variously, as a candidate to run with whatever monetary support Ramos can muster for him if he elects not to seek reelection in 2010. Ramos currently has more than $500,000 in his campaign fund.

A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. The county has a statutory period to consider the claim and either award the amount sought, enter into negotiations to settle it for a different amount of money or reject it outright. Once the claim is rejected, Ristow will have legal authority to proceed with a civil suit against the parties she deems responsible for her injuries.

County officials had no comment on the claim.