After Deborah Ramirez’s “empowering” FBI Interview, Her Attorney is Optimistic About Impact of Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Process
When John Clune walked into his Boulder law office Thursday morning, he found another envelope of handwritten cards thanking Deborah Ramirez for speaking up.
The cards and letters have kept coming for Ramirez in the days after the Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite Ramirez’s account that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party at a Yale University dormitory in the early 1980s. He vehemently denied the allegation.
The cards thank the Boulder woman for bringing her story to the public, for standing up for what she thought was right.
They’re a comfort to Ramirez and her attorneys as they attempt to return to normal life after the whirlwind of publicity and scrutiny that began with the Sept. 23 publication of a story in The New Yorker detailing her account, said Clune, one of four attorneys who represented her.
Ramirez has declined interview requests by The Denver Post and hasn’t publicly spoken to reporters since the publication of the magazine story.
The news vans have disappeared from outside Ramirez’s house, Clune said. She’s been able to leave her house for errands, he said, and has begun processing the events that thrust her name into the national spotlight.
“It’ll take a little while to adjust back to regular life,” he said. “It will be a process for her.”
Ramirez was not particularly upset when Kavanaugh was confirmed, Clune said. But blocking the judge’s confirmation was never Ramirez’s goal, he said.
“She was never focused on what the vote would be,” he said. “So I think it probably impacted her less than it impacted most people.”
Ramirez never wanted to speak publicly in the first place, he said. It wasn’t until a reporter with The New Yorker called her and another reporter, this time from The Washington Post, showed up at her house that she decided to talk, he said. She felt like the story was going to get out whether she participated or not, and she wanted to support Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school, and who was the first woman to accuse him of sexual misconduct.
“Her goal wasn’t to keep (Kavanaugh) off the bench,” Clune said. “Her goal was to tell about what her experience was with him and to make sure that information got to the right places. She felt that she did that.”
Even though Clune criticized the FBI investigation into the accusations against Kavanaugh as restricted, he said the process of being interviewed by the investigators was healing for Ramirez. The interviewers were respectful and thorough, he said.
“That was her opportunity to be heard,” he said. “It was empowering.”
Ramirez and another one of her attorneys, Stan Garnett, worked with a security company to create a safety plan for her before the magazine story published. They had seen how Ford had been attacked and forced to leave her home. Garnett, a former Boulder County district attorney, represented Ramirez during the reporting of The New Yorker story and until the Sunday it published, at which point he transitioned the case to Clune.
“I think she felt protected and I think we were able to keep the inevitable crazy attacks that I knew were coming away from her,” Garnett said.
Ramirez, who works as a volunteer coordinator for Boulder County, was never forced to live elsewhere and was shielded from the vast majority of hate, Clune said, though news reporters camped outside her Boulder home for days and she wasn’t able to leave.
Most of the vitriol was instead directed at her attorneys and the Boulder domestic-violence support organization with which she’s affiliated . Garnett said he received hundreds of hateful phone calls, text messages and emails. Strangers registered his work email address to porn sites.
“My wife and I didn’t answer the home line for a number of days,” Garnett said.
A look through messages sent publicly to Clune’s Twitter account show people calling him and Ramirez pathetic, telling him to “crawl back in your hole” and worse.
But those comments are far outweighed by others. “Debbie Ramirez will be a light for the future to follow,” one person wrote. “I wish you justice, healing and peace,” wrote another. “We believe you,” dozens wrote.
The cards and other encouraging messages, mostly from strangers, were a counterweight to the hateful, hostile comments.
“People out of the woodwork were reaching out to us,” Clune said. “People would send me letters to send to her, emails to forward on. I think it was a tremendous help to her.”
Clune doesn’t expect any further government action to come of Ramirez’s account about Kavanaugh. She and her attorneys will debrief, he said, but it seemed that the nation has moved on to the next news story, he said.
“She did her part and I don’t foresee anything else happening,” Clune said.
Clune is optimistic about the effect of the entire ordeal, however. Despite his own disappointment that Kavanaugh was confirmed and the ugly rhetoric surrounding the process, he said, the moment showcased the bravery of women who step forward with their experiences of sexual abuse and assault. He thinks the spectacle ultimately was empowering to women and that women will continue to come forward.
“I’m a keg half full kind of guy,” Clune said, quoting the “Saturday Night Live” sketch that mocked Kavanaugh’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Clune also was happy to see sexual abuse, assault and the resulting trauma discussed on such a public stage. He said that general knowledge about the topics has increased greatly since he started working on such cases , and the conversations surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation proved that.
“When I started doing Title IX work, this stuff was a foreign language to most people, and to myself to some extent,” he said, referring to the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex at colleges and universities.
“I think for the majority of the public there is a much greater understanding of trauma, at least on a fundamental level, and expectations around memory. Or expectations about how a trauma survivor is supposed to act or react or who they’re supposed to report to.”
He acknowledged that there also has been push back to the change in culture.
“But I’m very encouraged by the fact that women continue to stand up, particularly in the face of some of the most hostile opposition and the biggest stage imaginable,” Clune said. “It’s encouraging to me. And I don’t think it’s going to stop.”