The circus begins

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

steve@sfbg.com

Mayor Ed Lee and his attorneys are presenting a voluminous yet largely speculative case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in their effort to remove him for official misconduct, broadening the case far beyond their most damning core accusation -– that Mirkarimi dissuaded witnesses from telling police that he bruised his wife's arm during an argument on Dec. 31. And so far, there's no evidence to support that key allegation.

In fact, Mirkarimi and his attorneys insist there was no effort to dissuade witnesses, one of many unsupported aspects to a case they say should never have been filed without stronger evidence. And they say the mayor's team is now compensating for the weakness of its case by piling on irrelevant accusations and witnesses in an effort that amounts to character assassination.

There are even signs that the city is nervous about its case. Knowledgeable sources told the Guardian that the City Attorney's Office last week offered to settle the case with Mirkarimi, offering a substantial financial settlement if he would agree to resign, an offer that Mirkarimi rejected.

It was one of a series of rapidly unfolding developments that also included a raucous Ethics Commission hearing, the disclosure of phone records by Mirkarimi's side, a new list of charges, and the city's release of the video Mirkarimi's wife, Eliana Lopez, made with neighbor Ivory Madison, documenting the bruise in case of a child custody battle over their son.

Lopez has maintained that Mirkarimi never abused her and that she's been hurt most by the efforts to prosecute him and remove him from office.

"I hope they realize after reflection that what they have done is irreparable and perpetually damaging to me and my family," Lopez said in a statement condemning the city's release of a video that she fears will remain online for her children and grandchildren to see.

Yet all indications are this spectacle is only going to grow more sordid, divisive, and sensational as it moves forward — belying the statement Lee made last week as he introduced his annual budget: "As many of you know, I'm a person who does not like a whole lot of drama."

SIMPLE OR COMPLEX?

The May 29 Ethics Commission hearing to begin setting standards and procedures for the official misconduct proceedings against Mirkarimi illustrated two sharply divergent views on when elected officials should be removed from office. It also displayed the increasingly bitter acrimony and resentments on each side, emotions only likely to grow more pronounced as the hearings drag on for months against the backdrop of election season.

Both sides would like to see the decision as a simple one. Lee and his team of attorneys and investigators say Mirkarimi's bruising of his wife's arm and his unwillingness to cooperate with their investigation of what followed make him unfit for office. Mirkarimi and his lawyers admit his crime, but they say that's unrelated to his official duties and that the rest of Lee's charges against him are speculative and untrue.

Yet there's nothing simple about this official misconduct case — or with the implications of how each side is trying to counter the others' central claims. So despite the stated desires of some Ethics commissioners to narrow the scope of their inquiry and limit the number of witnesses, San Franciscans appear to be in for a long, dramatic, and divisive spectacle, with Mirkarimi's fate decided by the Board of Supervisors just a month or so before the five supervisors who have been his closest ideological allies face reelection. Nine of 11 votes are required to remove an official.

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