Mayor Lee discusses removing Mirkarimi from office

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Mayor Ed Lee today seemed to take a step back from his quote in today’s San Francisco Chronicle that his “gut feeling” was that Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge represents a conflict with Mirkarimi’s official duties that could warrant his removal from office.

Speaking to reporters after an appearance before the Board of Supervisors, Lee said he hasn’t made up his mind whether to charge Mirkarimi with official misconduct – which would ultimately require at least nine of 11 supervisors to vote for removal over what was alleged to be an incident of domestic violence – but that Lee said he would probably make that decision next week.

“My gut reaction wasn’t that,” Lee said when asked about his newspaper quote, explaining that he was simply surprised when the new charge replaced the three that Mirkarimi had initially been charged with: domestic violence, dissuading a witness, and child endangerment, all misdemeanors. 

“In the surprise of the legal settlement of the case, I’m required to take a look at this charge that wasn’t talked about before and determine whether those charges and the factual allegations behind those charges are measured up to the standard I have to deal with, which is official misconduct. And I have to allow myself enough time to do that with our City Attorney’s advice to make sure I’m on good legal footing. I was just surprised because it wasn’t one of the original charges,” Lee said, noting he had been doing research on the previous charges.

“Because it’s a new charge and one that was accepted by the courts as well, I have to make a thorough study of that, which is something I wasn’t prepared to do,” he said.

When asked whether the term “false imprisonment” (a broad legal charge that can mean different things depending on the context) affects his approach, Lee responded, “The word false imprisonment is obviously connected to a sheriff who does make a determination about imprisonment in general. But we’re going through the elements of what false imprisonment are and what the factual basis is and then, again, reapplying that to the standards of official misconduct.”

As for the timeline of his decision, Lee said, “I think it’s appropriate to wait until after the sentencing,” which is set for Monday, “so probably sometime next week.” Later, he said, “I am cognizant of the public distraction this case has made to the office, so I’m doing the best I can to comply with at least my own time frame.”

We asked Lee why he thought the charges – which resulted from an incident on New Year’s Eve in which Mirkarimi’s wife allegedly told a neighbor that he grabbed her and left a bruise on her arm – might rise to the level of official misconduct, particularly considering he hadn’t been sworn into office yet.

Lee replied, “That’ll be part of the assessment because I don’t think there’s an automatic thing here. He was elected and this was post election, so it doesn’t matter when he was sworn in and I think he was expected to be sworn in, so we have to take into consideration all of those elements.”

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