Sorting through scandal - Page 2

Mirkarimi's case moves from the courts to City Hall -- raising tough political and logistical questions

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Ross Mirkarimi pledges to fight for his job minutes before being suspended by Mayor Ed Lee.
PHOTO BY LUKE THOMAS

The Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle ("Mirkarimi's argument with wife detailed," March 25) have pieced together some of what happened. Sources say the couple argued in the car on the way to lunch at Delfina Pizzeria about whether Lopez would take their nearly three-year-old son, who was sitting in the backseat, with her to Venezuela.

The couple had been having marital problems and Mirkarimi, worried that she might not return or that their son could be kidnapped for ransom, got angry. As the argument escalated, Mirkarimi decided to take the family home. On the way, Mirkarimi told her that he had spoken to a lawyer and learned that she needed written permission from him to take their son out of the country and that he wouldn't do so.

That made Lopez angry and she got out of the car and tried to unfasten their son to leave when Mirkarimi grabbed her right arm, leaving a bruise that was clear in the videotape but which wasn't visible a week later when she wore a sleeveless dress to Mirkarimi's swearing in ceremony for sheriff.

That's the couple's version of events, anyway. There are no witnesses who can verify or dispute it.

Lee never called Lopez or her attorney to hear this story before deciding to remove him from office. But in the official charges he filed against Mirkarimi, Lee alleges "acts of verbal and physical abuse against his wife" and that he "restrained Ms. Lopez and violated her personal liberty," plus unproven allegations that he was never charged with, including encouraging neighbors to destroy evidence, and of hurting morale in the Sheriff's Department (based on a newspaper quote from a political opponent).

You don't have to defend Mirkarimi's conduct or belittle the serious crime of domestic violence — in fact, you don't have to believe anything the sheriff or his wife have said — to ask a few basic questions. Is this extraordinary executive power warranted in this case? What harm would come from waiting for a recall election, the usual method of removing elected officials after a scandal? Why did Lee give Mirkarimi 24 hours to resign and did he offer anything as incentive (sources tell us he offered another city job)? Will he release the City Attorney's Office advice memo, and if not, why?

The Guardian submitted those and many other questions to Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey, who said she would answer them by March 23, but then sent us this message at the end of that day before going on vacation: "After looking at your questions, it seems Mayor Lee addressed much of this in his comments on Tuesday. After Sheriff Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a crime of false imprisonment, Mayor Lee made a thorough review of the facts, reviewed his duties under the Charter and gave the Sheriff an opportunity to resign. When that did not happen, he moved to suspend the Sheriff."

Very few progressives have stood up publicly and taken Mirkarimi's side. One of them is Debra Walker, a longtime activist and city commissioner.

"This is about McCarthyism at this point, and not domestic violence," Walker told us. "Instead of helping [Lopez], they have succeeded in breaking this family apart. It's just bullying. It was always aimed at Ross stepping down and removing him as sheriff."

THE LEGAL MESS

So what happens next? It is, to say the least, unclear.

The last time a public official was charged with misconduct was in the 1970s, when Joe Mazzola, an official with the Plumbers Union, was removed from the Airport Commission because he refused to order striking plumbers back to work. The state Court of Appeal later overturned that decision, ruling that "official misconduct" had to be narrowly construed to be conduct directly related to the performance of official duties (a case Waggoner relies on in his petition).

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