Former Mayor Ramos Sues City Over His Removal

Harry Ramos speaks to reporters on Oct. 8, 2015, the day he was removed as mayor by the Murrieta City Council. Murrieta 24/7 photos: Doug...

Harry Ramos speaks to reporters on Oct. 8, 2015, the day he was removed as mayor by the Murrieta City Council.
Murrieta 24/7 photos: Doug Spoon

Murrieta City Council member Harry Ramos has filed a lawsuit against the City of Murrieta, seeking a writ of mandate to overturn the council's 2015 decision to remove him from the mayor's position, according to court documents obtained by Murrieta 24/7.

In the lawsuit, served upon the City Tuesday afternoon, Ramos also asks that the council's authorization of an investigation into allegations of misconduct be rescinded; that all findings of "the unlawful investigation" be removed from public records; and that Ramos be reimbursed for travel expenses incurred while serving as mayor.

Ramos told Murrieta 24/7 on Tuesday that his decision to file the petition for writ of mandate was in response to a settlement in another lawsuit. In that case, on the advice of its insurer, the City chose to settle for $99,000 a lawsuit filed against Ramos and the City of Murrieta by a woman who accused Ramos of sexual misconduct. That settlement was confirmed after Tuesday night's City Council meeting by acting city attorney Jeff Lawrence, who said the total cost to the city probably will be around $210,000.

In her lawsuit, Kathleen Smith was seeking $1 million in damages as a result of sexual misconduct by Ramos she alleged took place at a Chamber of Commerce event last year. According to Lawrence, court and attorney fees so far were already approaching the city's $125,000 deductible on the coverage it has through the Public Entity Risk Management Authority. At that point, he said, PERMA attorneys exercised their right to settle the case on behalf of the City.

Speaking hours after his lawsuit against the City was filed on Tuesday, Ramos expressed anger that his fellow council members did not attempt to oppose PERMA's decision to approve the settlement agreement, which was reached in mid-July and first reported in the media on Tuesday.

"We did what we thought was best for the City and for the taxpayers," mayor Randon Lane said on Tuesday.

Ramos disagrees with the decision to settle.

"Their lawyers voted on it and decided to settle it," Ramos said. "It did come back to the City Council, and if the council had objected, they could’ve tried to stop it. I’m not totally letting my colleagues off the hook. They absolutely should’ve fought this. The evidence is overwhelming that this was just political assassination."

Ramos maintains that he and the City would've won the lawsuit over Smith. Because of the settlement, he said, he has filed the lawsuit against the City and plans to file suit against Smith as well.

"I'm extremely disappointed," he said about the decision to settle with Smith. "I absolutely wanted to take it all the way in court. I fought as hard as I could. I did not sign the settlement. The city unilaterally settled. Originally it was supposed to be like a global release that all the parties needed to sign, but I refused to sign, so they kind of made a side deal.

"The City would’ve won. Because of this, I am going to seek legal action against [Smith]. If it had just been dismissed, I would’ve left it alone."

In the court documents regarding Ramos' lawsuit against the City, attorney Raychele Sterling of Riverside argues that because of changes made by the City Council in the language of council members' Code of Conduct in 2013 and 2014, the code "remained strictly voluntary and enforceable only against those council members agreeing to be bound by it through execution of the Code of Conduct." The document also states that language allowing council members to remove the mayor by majority vote was removed from the Code of Conduct.

Ramos said he refused to sign the Code of Conduct and that his City Council colleagues did not have the right to remove him as mayor for the alleged misconduct. Further, he said the council never should've authorized an independent investigation into the charges of sexual misconduct.

"I am not suing the city for money because quite frankly, if I get a dime, it’s not from anybody but the taxpayers," said Ramos. "I’m requesting a writ of mandate to have a judge decide whether he agrees that what they did was wrong, whether they overstepped their boundaries. One of the provisions would be to reinstate me (as mayor)."

Lane (right), then serving as mayor pro tem, was named mayor by council members on Oct. 8, 2015, with the 4-0 vote based on results of the independent investigation into multiple allegations of misconduct by Ramos. Council policy is to have council members serve as mayor on a rotating basis. Under the current rotation, mayor pro tem Rick Gibbs would become mayor at the end of the year.

The council terms of both Lane and Ramos are up this year, and both are running for re-election in November. Asked about the impact of the current situation on his chances to be re-elected, Ramos was adamant with his response.

"While I totally love serving my country in this capacity as an elected official, my reputation has been dragged through the mud," he said. "The fact it’s election time is completely irrelevant to my actions. This is not a political stunt. This is about clearing my name and my family’s.

"Being a Marine, you don’t back down, number one. It’s almost insulting to consider that because four individuals disagreed with my politics for their own reasons, that I am somehow going to back down and cower. I truly believe – I spent less than $500 on my first campaign as a complete unknown – that the people put me there for a reason. It would be a disservice for me to back down. What lesson would that teach my kids? Because it got a little rough and someone called me a few bad names that I’m just going to quit? I love serving my community."

Even though documents pertaining to the independent investigation state that Ramos refused to answer questions about many of the allegations of misconduct, Ramos said Tuesday he was willing to testify in court had the case been allowed to continue.

"The whole reason I didn't [answer] in the initial part was that I was following directions from my attorney," he said. "When you’re paying money, you kind of have to lean on their advice. But I have no problem testifying. And if I sue her, there is nowhere I can hide. I have to testify.

"I am more than looking forward to my day in court to clear my name."

Is Ramos concerned that another lawsuit will cost the taxpayers more money?

"They could always settle; they've shown they are willing to settle cases," he said about the City. "If you’re going to give someone who completely misrepresented what happened when the evidence is overwhelming a settlement ...

"There’s a point where you have to stand up for yourself and fight. I tried. I exhausted all my options. It’s been over a year, so the only action a citizen has when the city does wrong is to sue. I’m not seeking financial gains, even though there was definitely real damages involved with this. I’m suing to overturn their actions."

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