Perspective and proportion - Page 2

As the Ethics Commission finishes taking testimony in Mirkarimi inquiry, the evidence on most charges seems increasingly thin

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Ross Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, took the focus as the Ethics Commission wrapped up evidence-gathering in his trial.
MIKE KOOZIN/SF NEWSPAPER CO.

Lemon's testimony was based almost solely on second-hand descriptions of life in the Mirkarimi household in a 22-page written declaration by neighbor Ivory Madison, who was also the only witness that Lee said he spoke to before removing Mirkarimi from office. But most of Madison's incredible and fantastical narrative — which painted Mirkarimi as a monster who repeatedly abused Lopez and their son and controlled every aspect of their domestic life, right down to what and whether they ate — had already been discredited and disallowed by skeptical commissioners in June.

"I was disappointed by the content of Ivory Madison's declaration. A first-year lawyer should know that much of it is inadmissible and it should not have been given to us," Commissioner Paul Renne told Keith in June. Renne called the declaration "clearly hearsay, clearly having the intention of poisoning the well of this hearing."

Keith apologized and offered little resistance to much of the declaration's removal, but the city has nonetheless continued to rely on the second-hand accounts of Madison and another neighbor, Callie Williams, in its descriptions of Mirkarimi's conduct and the questioning of witnesses.

But that hearsay evidence and speculation was countered on July 18 and 19 with the extended cross examination of two key witnesses in the case: Lopez and Mirkarimi campaign manager Linnette Peralta Haynes, a woman with domestic violence training who Lopez reached out to on that pivotal day of Jan. 4 when Madison called the police. Each woman spent more than three grueling hours each on the stand, questioned by city attorneys and commissioners -- and they painted a very different portrait of the events than Lee and Madison had.

As for Madison — having had most of her testimony stricken from the record, and with Lopez testifying about Madison's sudden zeal for going after Mirkarimi and involving his political opponents in that process — Mirkarimi's team decided not to call her to the stand for live cross-examination. Attorney Shepherd Kopp told reporters, "I think the neighbor's testimony is suspect at best."

The go-between

Haynes was central to the city's allegation that Mirkarimi dissuaded witnesses and sought to thwart a police investigation. Phone and electronic records revealed that she communicated with both Lopez and Mirkarimi many times on Jan. 4, the day Mirkarimi learned that his wife had been confiding with neighbors about the Dec. 31 incident and that Madison had broken that confidence and called the police.

The city's apparent theory was that Haynes acted as Mirkarimi's agent in trying to cover up the incident and do damage control, including coaching Lopez on what to say to Madison and Williams.

But the city has never had any evidence to support its theory, and this was its first chance to question Haynes, who had been at the end of a high-risk pregnancy and resisted cooperating with the investigation.

Yet despite Kaiser and commissioners grilling Haynes for more than three hours -- twice as long as she had told the commission that she would need -- no smoking gun emerged. Haynes seemed calm and consistent as she described giving Lopez emotional support and probing to ensure that she wasn't in danger. Kaiser fumbled through technical difficulties and maintained an accusatory and belittling tone even as the answers she was receiving seemed to destroy her line of questioning.

"I think the house of cards that mayor has been trying to establish about witness dissuasion was demolished by Linnette Peralta Haynes, who was absolutely credible," Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp told reporters after the hearing.

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