The circus begins - Page 2

Mirkarimi removal efforts are already getting ugly — and there's still much more to come

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A large crowd came to support Ross Mirkarimi at the May 29 Ethics Commission hearing.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY STEVEN T. JONES

The Mayor's Office wants to call the most witnesses and present an elaborate (and expensive) case that includes a number of outside experts on law enforcement and domestic violence, painting a portrait of Mirkarimi as a serious wife-batterer whose past and future actions can be divined from that malevolent distinction, making him obviously unable to continue as San Francisco's chief law enforcement officer.

"The extent of the abuse was far greater than what Mr. Mirkarimi has testified to," claimed Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, going on to say "there were attempts to control what she ate," an apparent reference to Mirkarimi's decision not to take Lopez to a restaurant for lunch on Dec. 31 because they were having a heated argument. He also repeatedly referred to Mirkarimi as a batterer and said "batterers behave in a certain way."

Mirkarimi attorney Shepard Kopp calls that portrayal exaggerated and unfair, ridiculing the Mayor's Office claims that its domestic violence expert, attorney Nancy Lemon, can predict Mirkarimi's behavior based on grabbing his wife's arm once: "Apparently she's some kind of clairvoyant in addition to being an expert," Kopp told the commission as he unsuccessfully sought Lemon's removal from the witness list.

Ethics Commission Chair Benedict Hur took the lead role in trying to limit the witness list, focusing on stripping it of the various law enforcement experts who plan to describe how different agencies might react to dealing with Mirkarimi. "What I don't understand is how his ability to do his job relates to whether he committed official misconduct," Hur said.

Mirkarimi's team says its case could be very simple, with only Lee and Mirkarimi called as live witnesses — but the attorneys reserved the right to offer testimony to counter false or damaging claims made by the Mayor's Office.

Hur tried to limit the case to just witnesses and arguments that relate to Mirkarimi's actions, but he was outvoted by those who wanted to let the city argue how those actions would affect perceptions of Mirkarimi by the many people that a sheriff must interact with.

In the end, the commissioners agreed to trim the eight expert witnesses sought by the mayor down to three and to cut its 17 proposed fact witnesses down to 12, calling 15 total witnesses. Mirkarimi's team will call 10 witnesses, down from an initial 17. All witnesses will submit written declarations and then be subjected to live cross-examination if any of their testimony is disputed.

EVIDENCE AND SPECULATION

The speculative and prejudicial nature of some of the city's case was attacked at the hearing by Mirkarimi's attorneys and the large crowd that came to support him.

Commissioner Paul Renne asked the Mayor's Office attorneys why they hadn't summarized the expected testimony of their expert witnesses and "How are any of those opinions relevant to the issues in this case?"

"I have not had time to work with the witnesses to see what their opinions are," replied Deputy City Attorney Sherry Kaiser, prompting Kopp to incredulously note, "The mayor is preparing the expert witnesses without knowing what their testimony will be. How can I respond to that?"

The issues of bias and conflicts of interest also came up surrounding what sources should be called as witnesses. Mirkarimi's team wanted longtime Sheriff Michael Hennessey, Mirkarimi's predecessor, while the Mayor's Office pushed for Acting Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to convey how the Sheriff's Department should function.

"Vicki Hennessy was a political appoint of Mayor Lee," Waggoner objected, although the commission decided to use that appointee.

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