I wrote up the Jan. 19 hearing on the domestic violence charges against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, but a few more points are worth thinking about as the embattled sheriff prepares for another court hearing Jan. 23.
For one, the stay-away order that Judge Susan Breall issued doesn't allow Mirkarimi to have any contact with his two-year-old son for the next 45 days. That seems not only harsh but bad for the kid, who doesn't understand why he can't see his daddy and is, not surpisingly, confused and upset. There are no winners in this case (except the folks who would just as soon see Mirkarimi gone and replaced with a more traditional law-enforcement sheriff), but the biggest loser, the one I feel worst about, is the kid. If the judge was really worried about Mirkarimi being a danger to his son (which, frankly, seems like a huge stretch), then she could have authorized supervised visitation. That's not at all unusual in these kinds of cases, and would at least give the child a chance to have contact and a relationship with his father during the period when all of this is being sorted out in adult court.
There's not a lot of talk about the inherent conflicts of interest in this case, issues that come about from a sheriff who was once an investigator in the District Attorney's Office facing criminal charges filed by that same office, which is now run by a former police chief who the sheriff clashed with repeatedly when he was a supervisor. I don't know the law on this or how it could possibly play out, but there's an interesting article about it all here.
It's odd that the conflict piece ran in a publication that makes its living bashing local progressives, but everything about the media in this case is odd (except that fact that it's become an international zoo). The one writer who has talked seriously about Mirkarimi's right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty -- and the only major voice in the media urging him not to step down -- is the Chron's conservative columnist Debra Saunders.
Another interesting media tidbit: I don't know Mirkarimi will enough to have any insight into his behavior in romantic relationships, but one person who really does -- his longtime former girlfriend, journalist Evelyn Nieves -- has been quoted only once in the bottom of a New York Times/Bay Citizen story, to wit:
“I was shocked when I read about it,” Evelyn Nieves, a journalist and a past partner of Mr. Mirkarimi’s, said in an e-mail. “Ross and I were together for the better part of a decade — eight years or so — and never once did he even come close to being physical during an argument.”
“It’s just not his way,” Ms. Nieves added. “He was way more prone to proposing that disagreements be talked out. He could talk and talk.”
Again: Doesn't mean he's not guilty. Doesn't mean he hasn't changed. Just interesting that only one publication has even tried to contact and get a quote from Nieves.
I'm not a lawyer, of course, but it seems to me that the defining moment in this case will not be the trial but the pre-trial hearing in which Mirkarimi's lawyer tries to get a judge to rule that the videotape of Eliana Lopez talking about her injury and her fear of her husband can't be used in court. Bob Egelko has an excellent piece here; he points out that if the video isn't admissible as evidence, the case will collapse. If a judge rules (and the legal arguments seem to support it) that the prosecution can't introduce the video or show it to the jury, then I suspect the district attorney will have to drop the charges; if Lopez refuses to testify against her husband, there's nothing else to go on.
But this is a domestic violence case, and judges (no surprise) are political, and how many members of the local bench really want to be the one who ended such a high-profile case (and in effect, let the suspect walk) on what the media will call "a technicality?"