Eight months after a heated argument escalated into a fistfight between Centinela Valley school board trustee Gloria Ramos and her niece, a judge on Tuesday dismissed the case accusing Ramos of felony assault.
The move ends a long ordeal for the Hawthorne resident and special education teacher. Ramos, 40, was accused of trying to strangle her 23-year-old niece, who in January showed up uninvited at Ramos' home from Northern California for the stated purpose of helping to care for a frail relative on the premises.
The case went to trial in late May. The jury cleared Ramos on making felony criminal threats but was split almost evenly on the second charge of assault.
The District Attorney's Office refused to drop the case, and it refiled shortly after the mistrial.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sautner - best known for her tough-love rulings against a recalcitrant Lindsay Lohan - dismissed the case against Ramos.
The judge made the decision on the recommendation of Deputy District Attorney Sarah Ballog, whose key witness - accuser Norma Ramos of Sacramento - was a no-show.
"I'm just really glad this is over," said Ramos when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon. "They can accuse me of anything, and you have to spend all this money to defend yourself."
The fight broke out on Jan.
Nobody disputes that a disagreement between aunt and niece escalated to the point of violence - and that the school board trustee indeed grabbed the petite woman by the throat.
In dispute was whether Gloria threatened to snap her niece's neck, as the niece contended. Anthony Ramos, the primary witness, testified that he heard no such threat.
Also in dispute was whether Gloria acted as an aggressor or in self-defense. Photographic evidence showed that the young woman suffered bruising to her neck. But Gloria testified that the niece initiated contact by yanking Gloria's hair and refusing to let go as the two toppled to the ground. It was on this matter that the jury split 7-5 back in May in favor of a not-guilty verdict.
Though short-lived, the second go-round was a star-studded affair. In addition to the celebrity judge, it involved Gloria Ramos' defense attorney, Steven Seiden of Hawthorne, who recently represented the creator of a video lampooning the Prophet Muhammed. The movie sparked deadly anti-American riots in Pakistan last month by Muslim extremists, sending the producer into hiding.
Ramos said expenses from the case forced her to take out another mortgage on her house, which she had finally paid off last year. It also jeopardized her career as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Shortly after reading about the incident in the newspaper, her superiors removed her from the classroom, placing her on leave until the trial's conclusion. Because Ramos has yet to make tenure, her job situation remains up in the air.
"It has definitely affected me in an adverse way, but I do like my employer, and I want to continue working for LAUSD," she said.
Chris Williams, a spokesman for attorney Seiden's office, credited the deputy district attorney for her professionalism.
"They did their diligence, they did their research - they interviewed the alleged victim, didn't have the cooperation with her on the final count," he said. "And when they were unable to proceed to trial, the case was dismissed."
He added: "Ms. Ramos is dedicated to the South Bay community, primarily the Centinela Valley school district, as an educator and as a parent. This is a big weight off her shoulders, and allows her to go back to doing the good work she's been educated for."
Back in May, Gloria testified that she wanted the young woman to leave, in part because she felt Norma had been acting in a sexually inappropriate manner. For instance, she charged that on at least one occasion, Norma was naked in a bedroom with Gloria's two children, ages 8 and 2, present.
There had already been bad blood between Gloria and that side of the family. On the stand, Gloria Ramos testified that she also didn't want Norma there because Norma was beginning to remind Gloria of her estranged brother (Norma's father), who, Gloria said, raped her when she was 8.
On Tuesday, Gloria said the ordeal has left her feeling grateful for the immaterial riches in her life.
"I could focus on the debt (from refinancing the house), or on the fact that I still have a lovely home with the best neighbors imaginable, and a backyard for my kids to run barefoot," she said.
She added that she is trying not to think ill of her niece or brother.
"The only thing that has given me resolve is wishing them well," she said. "It doesn't mean I'm inviting them over for Thanksgiving. But I wish them well - away from me."
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