Motion could cripple case against Mirkarimi if granted

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Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's attorney is seeking to prevent jurors from hearing key evidence in the case.
Evie Pit

(UPDATE 2/27: The judge today denied the defense motion to suppress this video. More details here.) The domestic violence case against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi could be dealt a crippling blow if the judge approves yesterday's defense motion to bar videotaped testimony that his wife, Eliana Lopez, gave to their neighbor, Ivory Madison. But even if Mirkarimi beats the criminal rap, his political future could still depend on finally offering a detailed explanation of exactly what happened during that New Year's Eve incident.

Yesterday's motions were the subject of a cover story in today's San Francisco Examiner, but they were strangely buried on page C2 in the San Francisco Chronicle, which also chose not to provide details of the motion, which makes a fairly compelling case for barring the videotape that is the only evidence that Lopez may have had a bruise on her arm, allegedly inflicted by Mirkarimi.

The motion argues that the videotape is inadmissible hearsay evidence that doesn't meet the legal standard of an immediate reaction to a crime. Not only was it recorded the next day, but both Lopez and Madison say on the tape that it was intended to be used only if Lopez left Mirkarimi and sought sole custody of their two-year-old son, Theo.

“The videotape itself was the product of a reflective and deliberate decision to create evidence for purposes of a custody proceeding,” Mirkarimi attorney Lidia Stiglich argued in her motion, citing caselaw that makes such considered actions inadmissible. As the Examiner noted, the motion suggested Lopez might have ulterior motives in such an instance, making it possible that she misrepresented to Madison what had happened. Lopez denies that Mirkarimi abused her and is not cooperating with the prosecution.

Madison is quoted in the motion as saying the video was being made in case there was ever a child custody case and that “I really don't know” what happened that night, but she believed it wasn't an isolated incident, allegedly telling police, “she definitely didn't describe it as 'he grabbed my arm one time and left this mark.'”

Stiglich told the Guardian that barring the videotape from admission would be huge: “It's a significant piece of evidence.” Some legal observers have even said the entire case against Mirkarimi could crumble if that evidence is barred, and that the ruling on its admissibility could really go either way depending on which judge gets assigned to the case tomorrow.

"We are not suprised nor concerned with the motion filed by Mr. Mirkarimi's attorney and we will continue to handle legal issues in the courtroom and not in the media," District Attorney's Office spokesperson Omid Talai told us. He wouldn't characterize how important that evidence is to the case, but he did say, "Every case is filed based on the totality of evidence."

Yet Stiglich said much of the case rests of that videotaped evidence, which she believes presents a distorted view of what happened. “These statements are essential to their case, and there are issues with that type of testimony,” Stiglich told us.

Yet if Mirkarimi beats the criminal rap by suppressing that evidence, it's unlikely to help him in the court of public opinion. Neither Mirkarimi nor Lopez have provided a full explanation or alternative narrative of what happened that night, how the alleged injury occurred, or other crucial details, and Stiglich said she doesn't think now is the time for that kind of tell-all.

“I don't think anyone should be making factual statements outside the courtroom at this point,” Stigich told us, confirming that she has advised against Mirkarimi making those kind of public statements, although she said he has been anxious to do so.

Motions in the case could be heard as soon as tomorrow, but Stiglich said she doesn't expect opening statements in the case to take place under the week after next. She estimates witness testimony in the case will take about a week.

Then, after it's all over and the jury renders a verdict, we'll all see how much Mirkarimi's team discloses about what actually happened that night and with earlier instances where Mirkarimi allegedly got physical with Lopez and a previous girlfriend, Christina Flores, who prosecutors also hope to put on the witness stand.

And if there are still questions to be answered, then we can all push Mirkarimi for a fuller accounting, render our own judgments, and determine where we think the truth lies and what that says about the public officials involved in this case.