11:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, May 5, 2010

By RICHARD K. DE ATLEY
The Press-Enterprise

It would be an understatement to say San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos has had a tumultuous second term.

He has filed bribery charges against two former county officials and his office brought the state Attorney General’s office into the corruption investigation after one of the accused claimed Ramos had a conflict of interest in the case.

Ramos’ two opponents in the June 8 election, private attorneys Frank Guzman and Bob Conaway, say despite Ramos’ prosecution of the bribery case the district attorney also is tainted, and that favoritism from Ramos means some are escaping prosecution.

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Ramos said an independent review of the case he is working on by the attorney general’s office upholds the direction he is taking it. He denies his office is tied to the corruption it is investigating.

In addition to his corruption investigation, his challengers and others say Ramos is unfit to hold the office because he has been implicated in extramarital affairs — directly by one employee. Authors of online blogs have suggested others as well.

An investigation concluded he did not harass Cheryl Ristow, an investigative technician in his office, but investigators said they did not look at her claims of an affair because she said it was consensual. Ramos is married and has two grown children.

innuendoes

Ramos says the innuendoes about alleged affairs are “absolutely” false and says the accusations are because of his prosecution of county officials.

Corruption, Ramos said, “has been such an epidemic in this county that whoever was going to take this on was going to be attacked … I was told that three years ago: ‘You start looking at this, and you start turning over the rocks, and you start holding people responsible, they will do everything in their power to take you out, get you politically, personally. They won’t stop at anything.’ And it’s happened.”

Ramos, first elected in 2002, says he is seeking a third term to complete his corruption investigation, fight gangs, and work with Sacramento and Washington to keep grant money flowing to his office during tough economic times.

Fighting corruption

Conaway, a Hinkley attorney, said Ramos’ office began investigating corruption “way too late in the game.”

For Ramos, “To have taken this long to subpoena the records, to wait for the attorney general to step into the fray for him — that smells of complicity,” said Conaway, who has previously run for Congress, a county supervisor seat, and a judgeship.

“How can you eradicate corruption when you are in the middle of it?” asked Guzman, a longtime criminal defense attorney who came in third in a run against Ramos in 2002.

Bill Postmus, a former county supervisor and former assessor, and Jim Erwin, a former assistant assessor and former chief of staff to a supervisor, are accused of conspiring with five unnamed and uncharged co-conspirators to provide Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners with a $102 million lawsuit settlement through bribes, extortion and threats.

Postmus had previously been charged with nine felony counts relating to misuse of public resources at the assessor’s office. Erwin had been charged with 10 felony counts related to his failure to report gifts. Both have denied wrongdoing.

More efficient

Conaway said besides his criticism of Ramos’s handling of the corruption probe, he believes the office can be run more efficiently.

“I know we have a large county, but we need to avoid putting people on the road,” he said.

He said he would try to analyze caseloads to see where to most effectively use people.

Ramos says he has done work to make his office more efficient, and one of the measures being taken is mapping the needs for prosecutors by courthouse caseloads.

“We are looking at where the biggest number of cases are, and saying, ‘Let’s move our staff where we need to.’ ”

Ramos said he has lost 45 of his staff — 18 of them deputy district attorneys — through attrition over the past two years.

“We have not replaced those, and we have not asked the board (of supervisors) to replace them … I know the situation we’re all in,” he said.

The office was budgeted for 526 positions for this fiscal year, but some of those posts were vacant.

He said his office was behind on reviewing about 20,000 misdemeanor out-of-custody cases.

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