Threats from mayor and neighbor in evolving Mirkarimi saga

The media circus that surrounds Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi could be dragged out if Mayor Ed Lee files official misconduct charges
Luke Thomas

In Old West and pulp fiction stories, it’s usually the sheriff who tells a criminal that he has 24 hours to get out of town or else. But in the latest twist in an increasingly ugly San Francisco drama, that’s what Mayor Ed Lee reportedly told Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi yesterday afternoon, setting up a 5 pm showdown by which Lee told Mirkarimi to resign or face removal from office.

That’s just one of a few rapidly unfolding developments surrounding domestic violence allegations against Mirkarimi, who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of false imprisonment and is now facing Lee’s threat of bringing official misconduct charges against him.

With the criminal case ending yesterday, Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, and her attorney Paula Canny called a press conference for noon today to finally tell the story of what happened on New Year’s Eve, when the couple fought and Lopez was left with a bruise on her arm, the next day telling neighbor Ivory Madison that Mirkarimi had inflicted it.

But Canny arrived without Lopez, telling the large pack of journalists that they were no longer free to talk because of a cease-and-desist letter and civil lawsuit threatened by Madison and her lawyer husband, Abraham Mertens, who wrote an op-ed in today’s Chronicle calling for Mirkarimi’s removal and accusing Mirkarimi, Lopez, and their lawyers of trying to “discredit, dissuade and harm my wife.”

“Events have risen so that Eliana Lopez is no longer willing to come speak,” Canny said, noting that she has had to get her own lawyer to defend against the accusations and legal threats from Mertens and Madison. 

[added from here at 3:30 pm] Canny repeated a previous claim that Lopez knew Madison had attended law school and was seeking legal help from her, making the videotape confidential under attorney-client privilege, a claim Mirkarimi’s judge rejected. “My client sought legal advice from someone she thought reasonably to be an attorney,” Canny said today, noting that only Lopez can lift the veil of confidentiality in such cases.  

Although Lopez didn’t cooperate with the prosecution of her husband, maintaining that she was not a victim of domestic violence, Canny reiterated that Lopez was willing to testify in court as to what really happened that night but that she wanted immunity from prosecution first. “She has always said she would testify under immunity, but the District Attorney’s Office refused to offer it,” Canny said today. 

Given that Mirkarimi faced a child endangerment charge because their two-year-old son, Theo, was present during the altercation, it’s conceivable that Lopez could also be charged with a crime. Sources close to Mirkarimi and Lopez told the Guardian that Lopez was prepared to say today that Mirkarimi was restraining rather than attacking her, something she was willing to discuss with reporters before these latest legal threats.

Canny noted that the media circus and threats made on the couple’s livelihood have been the most damaging part of a saga that she called “an amazing, horrible experience” and  “oppressive and unfair,” noting the irony of a prosecution that purported to be about helping victims of domestic violence.

“Has any of this helped Eliana Lopez? Has any of this helped Theo?” Canny said. “This is not about helping her.”

She said that neither Lee nor anyone from the Mayor’s Office have tried to contact Lopez. “If the mayor wants to call me, I’d say he’s not trying to make the world a better place,” Canny said.

Canny also had this message for Lee: “To the mayor, please respect the electoral process,” adding that Lopez also strongly wants Mirkarimi to remain in office and that “Eliana Lopez is not afraid of Ross. Eliana Lopez loves Ross…If people care about them at all, let Ross do his job.”

Canny also took issue with La Casa de las Madres and other domestic violence advocates that have pressured Lee to oust Mirkarimi and sought to capitalize on the case, even circulating Lopez’s name and image. “That’s not how crime victims are to be taken care of,” Canny said. 

Many political and legal observers say they’re surprised by Lee’s apparent decision to suspend Mirkarimi and bring official misconduct charges, saying it will be a complicated, distracting, and divisive process that is unlikely to result in Mirkarimi’s removal. They say the charges so clearly don’t rise to the level of official misconduct that even the Ethics Commission, where the hearing is held, may reject them. If Ethics recommends Mirkarimi’s removal, it was take nine of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to remove him.

Then again, these observers speculate that Lee may simply want to use the hearings to air the evidence and discredit Mirkarimi so that he’d be easy pickings for a recall campaign that could be launched this summer -- in the process, potentially gaining a campaign issue to use against progressive supervisors facing reelection this fall. The Chronicle reported yesterday that the case has generated a bonanza of donations to La Casa de las Madres, which is planning to do Spanish-language billboards in the Mission District, where Sup. David Campos is now running for reelection.

Lee has not offered many substantial comments on why he may believe official misconduct charges are warranted, but he’s expected to do so as soon as this afternoon when he announces his decision on the Mirkarimi matter.