San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos at his office in San Bernardino, Calif. on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Ramos, who served since 2002, is seeking re-election. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The San Bernardino Sun/SCNG)

By Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | San Bernardino Sun
February 24, 2018 at 8:00 am

Seeking his fifth term as San Bernardino County’s top prosecutor, District Attorney Michael A. Ramos is facing two challengers in this year’s election race.

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Defense attorney and former San Bernardino County prosecutor Jason Anderson is challenging incumbent Mike Ramos for District Attorney in this year’s election.(Stan Lim, San Bernardino Sun/SCNG)

Jason Anderson, a former deputy district attorney-turned defense attorney for the county’s conflict panel in Rancho Cucamonga, recently pulled papers and has officially announced his candidacy. Deputy Public Defender Ed O’Brien, who also briefly served as a county prosecutor, is also running against Ramos. Anderson says it is time for much-needed change at the D.A.’s Office. O’Brien vows to crack down harder on violent crime and strengthen the “social fabric” of the communities he serves to help reduce violent crime.

A third challenger and veteran prosecutor of 17 years, Deputy District Attorney John Thomas, who announced his candidacy last March, dropped out of the race in December. In a telephone interview Friday, Thomas said he dropped out for personal reasons but declined to elaborate. He did say he will be supporting Anderson’s bid for D.A.

“He’s an ethical guy. He’ll do the right thing when it comes to what gets prosecuted in the county and what doesn’t,” Thomas said.

Ramos had previously considered a run for state Attorney General but said during a recent interview at his office that his work as the co-chair of the Death Penalty Reform Initiative Committee for Proposition 66 made him realize he could be more effective where he was at than in Sacramento. Beginning in 2015, he said he spent a year and a half traveling the state, speaking to law enforcement officials and organizations and the families of murder victims, helping raise $5 million to get the initiative on the ballot. The initiative passed in November 2016, capturing more than 51 percent of the vote.

“It opened my eyes about the huge responsibility we have as district attorneys, not only locally, for our citizens and victims, but statewide and nationally,” Ramos said. “I decided I can do more for victims of crime in the position I am in as district attorney.”

In his 16 years as district attorney, Ramos said he has developed a strong law enforcement network. He has worked with three state attorneys general and two governors. He is president of the National District Attorneys’ Association, and has worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to obtain funding for gathering DNA for cold case prosecutions. Additionally, Ramos has been a staunch victims’ rights advocate, expanding his office’s victim advocate department by a dozen advocates and helping fund a safe-home for teenage girls victimized by human trafficking.

Ramos also touts his success cracking down on violent gang crimes in the county. He said his office has the highest number of caseloads per capita in the state and leads the nation in successful prosecutions of gang cases. Ramos said his office has sent 6,852 gang members to state prison since his time in office. In 2014, he said his office has an 84 percent conviction rate in felony cases, the highest in California.

If re-elected, Ramos said he will push to reduce the number of violent criminals being paroled from state prison. He cited as examples a man who beat his 9-month-old son to death because the boy ate Oreo cookies without permission and a woman involved in a home invasion robbery in San Bernardino in which a family of five were murdered and a 2-year-old boy shot and wounded. But they were merely two in list of 10 violent offenders he produced.

“I got to be the voice to stand up to the people in Sacramento,” said Ramos. “Because I’ve had the opportunity of serving this long, people listen to what I’m saying. I still want to fix the parole system and what is going on with these folks.”

Other achievements Ramos lists are his Stop the John program, which shames people convicted of soliciting prostitutes by posting their mugshots on the District Attorney’s website and releasing them to the media. He said his office developed a new crisis response protocol following the Dec. 2, 2015, terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center that left 14 people dead, and he created a Crimes Against Peace Officers Unit, the most recent of several specialty units he assembled during his time in office.

Ramos so far has been endorsed by the Fontana, Redlands and Ontario police officers associations, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the San Bernardino County Public Attorney’s Association, Cal Fire Firefighters Local 2881 Inland Empire Chapter, and the Teamsters union.

Anderson said the District Attorney’s Office needs to be less politicized and avoid overzealous prosecutions, such as the ill-fated Colonies corruption case, which ended in September last year with all four defendants being acquitted or having their case dropped.

“We’re not playing a game of chicken here,” said Anderson during a recent interview at his office, next to the Rancho Cucamonga courthouse. “A tremendous amount of suffering and sacrifice went on in that case.”

As District Attorney, Anderson said he would make sure the facts of cases are heavily scrutinized, and that the evidence can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before a person is charged with a crime.

A proportionate number of jurors in the marathon 8-month Colonies trial said prosecutors failed to prove the defendants engaged in an elaborate bribery scheme to fix a $102 million legal settlement paid out to land developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006. All of the defendants maintained their innocence from the get-go and are now seeking more than $100 million in compensation from the county. Federal lawsuits may be filed. The criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution spanned nine years.

A former prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Crimes Against Children Unit, Anderson said he tried roughly 100 cases in his 17 years as a prosecutor before switching sides and becoming a defense attorney in 2014. He is also a law professor at the University of La Verne College of Law, was an Ontario planning commissioner from 2000 to 2004, and served on the Ontario City Council from 2004 to 2008.

If elected D.A., Anderson said he would still maintain a caseload in the pre-trial stages.

“It keeps your hand on the pulse of what the day-to-day issues are in the legal system,” he said. “I think it keeps you relevant and off the politician trend.”

And a politician Anderson is not, so he says.

“I am not interested in any other office. I want to stay right here,” he said.

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