Incumbent Mike Ramos is seeking his fourth term as San Bernardino County’s District Attorney. He is being challenged by 30 year Assistant District Attorney Grover Merritt. In 2003, when Merritt was first considering a run against his boss, Mike Ramos, Merritt was summarily fired by Ramos. He sued the District Attorney and, just before depositions were to begin in the case, the county suddenly settled the case returning Merritt to his job, and paying him $300,000 in compensation.
Merritt also served as President of the Public Attorney’s union and was the lead prosecutor in appellant cases for the District Attorney’s office.
Over the last four years, the District Attorney’s office has engaged in some high profile prosecutions, usually around election time. In 2010, D.A. Mike Ramos along with then Attorney General Jerry Brown announced the “greatest public corruption case in California history.” In the four years since that time, they have not successfully prosecuted anyone in the case. They did managed to get former Supervisor and Assessor Bill Postmus to plead guilty to three felonies, but the long-time methamphetamine addict, who once arrived in court on drugs, could never be put on the stand as a credible witness.
Now a new twist to the District Attorney’s race is beginning to take shape. According to the San Bernardino County Sentinel titled “Documents Implicate DA Ramos In Extortion and Kickback Scheme,” April 25, 2014, the District Attorney provided letters of recommendation for defense attorneys pursuing the $20 million contract for the County of San Bernardino’s conflict panel. Why the controversy in a letter of recommendation?
First, the Conflict Panel represents indigent defendants in criminal prosecutions by, yes, the District Attorney. How does an attorney recommend another attorney to clients whom they will oppose in court?
Second, the defense attorney’s in question have contributed more than $120,000 in individual and corporate campaign contributions to District Attorney Mike Ramos over the past decade.
Third, as disclosed by the Sentinel, Earl Carter, the lead attorney for the law firm in question was convicted of lewd conduct in a public restroom in Riverside in 1985 and failed to report it to the State Bar as required. The Sentinel article states that D.A. Mike Ramos withheld this information from the County Board of Supervisors which would have precluded Carter’s firm from winning the contract.
Additionally, the Board of Supervisors, in awarding all four contracts to Carter’s firm, did so even though they paid more for the contracts then they needed to, and could have saved millions of dollars for taxpayers if they had chosen too.
Which raises serious questions about San Bernardino County’s governing body as a whole.
According to the Sentinel, Loyola Laws School Law Professor Laurie Levenson, a former assistant U.S. Attorney stated “The appearance of it is troubling. It gives the appearance of impropriety because by making those donations, he [Carter] looks as if he is currying favor with the district attorney. Although it may be permitted, I don’t think it is ethical.”
It is clear that there are other events forthcoming from this disclosure. Expect, State Bar complaints and for this issue to resonate through the June election.
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