Lopez steals the show as the city's case against Mirkarimi falters

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Mirkarimi's wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, continues last night's testimony this afternoon.
Mike Koozmin

This afternoon's must-watch television is on the city's SFGTV starting at 5pm when Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez returns to the witness stand as the Ethics Commission considers Mayor Ed Lee's effort to remove her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, from office on official misconduct charges. Because after last night's hearings, the city's case has been severely weakened, making the standoff between a charming Lopez and flailing Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith even more pivotal.

For those with the patience and stomach to sit through these sordid and often tedious hearings – including a press gallery that has packed each hearing – there is a growing sense that the city is in trouble and getting desperate, largely because Keith and Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser have been unable to support their speculative central charges, nonetheless grinding away at them, thus highlighting that lack of support.

That seemed especially true last night during Kaiser's disastrous cross-examination of Mirkarimi campaign manager Linnette Peralta Haynes, a figure who was central to the city's allegation that Mirkarimi dissuaded witnesses and sought to thwart a police investigation into a Dec. 31 incident in which he grabbed Lopez's arm and left a bruise.

Haynes had communicated with Lopez and Mirkarimi via phone and text message throughout the day on Jan. 4, when neighbor and Lopez confidante Ivory Madison reported the incident to police, even briefly speaking to Madison that day when Lopez suddenly handed the phone to her. 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 another neighbor, Callie Williams, as Lopez desperately tried to prevent the situation from spinning out of control.

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, which seemed to only feed the city's conviction that she had incriminating information that Kaiser would be able to pry loose on the witness stand.

Yet that didn't happen, despite Kaiser and commissioners grilling Haynes for more than three hours, twice as long as she had told the commission that she would need. Whereas 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.

But the star of last night's show was Lopez, who had just returned from Venezuela, where she and her son have been staying with family since March because Lee stripped Mirkarimi of his salary and because the couple is barred from seeing one another by a restraining order they didn't seek, but which has been extended by these proceedings.

Keith's first line of questioning tried to use that separation against them, implying that Lopez was supporting Mirkarimi – which she has done since the beginning, claiming that he's not abusive and that they are working on their problems – only so that he would continue to sign off in family court on his son remaining in Venezuela.

“Ms. Lopez has a thriving life in Venezuela and she wouldn't want to do anything to upset the sheriff,” Keith proffered to a skeptical commission to justify his line of questioning about Lopez, who begins a 20-day film shoot on Monday.

But he seemed to score few points in that realm as Lopez – who was alternately resolute and playfully charming, sparking some of the only moments of levity and laughter during hearings that have dragged on for months – laid the blame for her family plight on Madison (“my nutty neighbor,” she Lopez once described her) and the investigators and prosecutors that she believes have misinterpreted her words and intentions and blown the incident out of proportion.

Keith also tried to find support for another key allegation against Mirkarimi – that he claimed to be a “powerful man” who could use his office to keep custody of their son in the event of a divorce – but he also seemed to hit a brick wall there. Based on statements by Madison – most of whose hyperbolic and unsupported written testimony has been disallowed by the commission – Keith tried to tie Lopez's custody concerns to his status as sheriff, driving at that point with many questions.

But Lopez said her concern was that California family courts would favor Mirkarimi simply because he's an American and she's from a country that has bad relations with the US. “In this country, I think he's in a better position than me,” she said. After he again tried to make it about his official position, she said, “As a sheriff, no; as an American, yes.”

It was that concern over custody that prompted Lopez to consult with Madison and make a tearful video of the bruise on her arm, something Lopez said Madison coached her through and promised would remain confidential, something Lopez believed because Madison had attended law school and presented herself as a lawyer.

When Keith confronted Lopez with a prior written statement that she was worried about Mirkarimi's power as “an American and politician,” Lopez said that it was Madison who planted that idea in her head, not Mirkarimi. “After our conversation, she made me feel even more scared. She said it was an all boys network and they would protect themselves so you need evidence,” Lopez said.

But she denied the claim by the city and Madison that it was Mirkarimi who sought to improperly use his position, a key element of removing him for official misconduct. Lopez said her conclusions about Mirkarimi's advantages in a potential custody battle were the result of conversation that happened much earlier.

“That conversation happened in March 2011. He wasn't even thinking about running for sheriff at that point,” she said, denying that Mirkarimi ever raised his official position in their custody conversations and claiming the concerns about his power were her own. “He never said that, that was my conclusion of our conversations. He never said, 'I am a powerful man.'”

Because the interrogation of Haynes dragged on so long, it was nearly 9pm when Lopez took the stand, and she only got through about 40 minutes of testimony before the hearing adjourned. Keith estimated that she would be on the stand for about two and a half hours – and so far, the city's attorneys have underestimated how long they would question each witness – so there's probably much more to come this afternoon.

Comments

befitting her celebrity status as the heroine of Ross supporters. First she was demonized as a traitorous, dramatic actress who got their hero in trouble, now she's a conquering hero whose return to SF was made possible by contributions to the Eliana Lopez Legal Defense Fund. You couldn't make this story up if you tried.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

I keep having to check if Aaron Spelling is really dead, since this saga really has his touch.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

We deserve to know who wants to meddle in our democracy here in SF. I demand full disclosure on exactly who gave what, when and where.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

I don't think you understand this "democracy" thing so much. Clue:if you or anyone else donates to Eliana..they aren't required to give you the specifics..it's called "democracy".

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 8:46 am

It will be extremely amusing if, after enduring all of this drama, we end up with a Sheriff who's on parole.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

I can think of a lot of adjectives to describe that scenario, but "amusing" isn't one of them.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

that she shouldn't come back to San Francisco and finally be heard, Eliana came back and wowed em'. Limo? for what she's been put through by the mirkarimi haters, she ought to have a gold-plated carriage. So many have tried so hard to shut her up, thinking she would just go away. Bravo! Eliana! knock it out of the park tonight.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

I'm basically indifferent to this whole drama at this point. You're a Ross/Eliana supporter, which is cool, but recognize that most of the City is not. So with that in mind, she needs to be playing down the telenovela diva image, not amplifying it.

Posted by Sam on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

From the link to the video you posted, you seem to be advancing an agenda while trying to present yourself as a neutral. Or maybe I'm wrong. I'll try to also sound neutral by saying, I'm motivated by dislike that Mayor Lee is trying to disenfranchise the voters.

Posted by LieEdRun on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

Most of the city is not, but that doesn't mean a recall is going to happen, unfortunately. Anyone hear anything about petitions going out? *crickets*

The truth is that the minority support for the Sheriff is much more fervent than the tepid opposition. No one's willing to do what it will take to get this scumbag out of office now that the city has done such a poor job with this suspension.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

The window was way too short to gather the signatures - but it'll happen.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

job with this suspension" but because most people think that Mirkarimi has been punished *quite* *enough* and that furthermore Mayor Lee is the one who a majority of voters are having second thoughts about.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

>"Mayor Lee is the one who a majority of voters are having second thoughts about."

@lilli, please site the poll including the sample size and a questionnaire to support this assertion. We know that you take polls very seriously.

Or were you just saying whatever you wished and passing it off as the truth?

Posted by Troll on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

The 8 Washington referendum submitted 31000 signatures today, they needed 18000. The Tenants Union came within a hair's breadth of qualifying a Park Merced referendum last year. The Chronicle is running stories painting Ed Lee as Just Another Politician. The wheels are falling off of the cart, Ed Lee might very well go down on double perjury charges.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

The anti-8 Washington people are cutting it very, very close.

Incidentally I ran into one of them two days ago - they were not displaying the full measure and they were saying the project changed height limits on the entire waterfront. I took video which I plan on using in the complaint I'm filing.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 8:33 pm

We'll see your real name.

Downside: well, there's really no downside, since I'm sure it'll get tossed.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 9:28 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

to have poll data when in fact there was *no* such data available AND/OR the poll was a push poll conducted before Mirkarimi had a chance to get his side of the story out. You have claimed to have such date WHEN NONE EXISTS.

No. When I wrote "there's going to be no recall not because "the city did a poor job with this suspension" but because most people think that Mirkarimi has been punished *quite* *enough* and that furthermore Mayor Lee is the one who a majority of voters are having second thoughts about" I did so because it is my opinion; and that opinion is based on my own inquiries of people I've encountered.

It is fairly ridiculous that trolls such as yourself have voiced *completely* *bogus* assessments of this case based on y'all's *own* baseless assessments and now seek to "debunk" here what I have put forth.

Troll, why not just produce that which you claim to be able to produce rather than continue to bloviate in this semi-intelligent manner?

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

Basically you are stating that because based on the people you talk to hate Ed Lee and think enough has been done to Ross, that this some how is representative of the city in general. Since you LOVE to rail against alleged push polls etc, I find this absolutely hysterical that you said this. Seriously, expand the circle of friends. At least t he two polls conducted did random samples and not just your buddies at Daly's dive.

Posted by D. native on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

Therefore the rest of the city believes the same way. Personally I tend to "accidentally" overhear conversation in the supplements aisle at Rainbow and then conclude that all city residents must think similarly.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

The first poll, which was conducted before Mirkarimi had a chance to get his side of the story out, *was* a push poll because the question regarding whether or not Lee had done the right thing in suspending the sheriff was prefaced by a provably incorrect statement saying Ross had gotten off lightly in his plea bargain.

The second poll? You cannot prove such a poll exists. Contrary to the mendacious claims made by the likes of Troll and Troll II, it was *never* reported as a serious news story (that I have seen) but rather only in gossip columns. There is absolutely *no* basis for you to claim that it used a random sample because every bit of supposed data regarding that "poll" and how it was conducted has not been released. Anywhere. Poof, "no second poll."

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 7:07 am

Seriously- you demand proof of the randomness of these polls etc., yet, you make claims that the majority of the city is against Lee and for Ross, based on People you have talked to. wow.

Basically Lilli, you are going to believe what you want. Any poll that is out that that goes against Ross, you are not going to believe, so why bother. It is like trying to convince the Pope that women should be priests- just not going to happen as it goes completely against your belief system.

Posted by D.native on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 7:51 am

of the existence of the second poll. Why not try claiming that it was "widely reported in the news"... while failing to provide proof of that; or you can provide links to gossip columns or refer to repeated citations of said supposed poll by anonymous internet posters?

"Wow"... really.

You think my expressing my opinion which I've freely admitted is based on my own assessment of popular opinion due to my informal polling and the condition of Lee's case against Mirkarimi is somehow invalidated by a "poll" which nobody has seen and nobody has taken personal ownership of.

Funny you should mention the Catholic church because you seem to have bought into the anti-Mirkarimi catechism with a strangely religious fervor.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 8:19 am

OK @lilli, calm down. You were very convincing in debunking the two bogus push polls against Mirkarimi that were widely reported in the news.

So when you said that a majority of voters were turning against Mayor Lee I asked for a source and you provided it - it was your own inquiries of people that you've encountered.

Certainly enough proof for me. Thanks for the great work!

Now don't forget to take your meds before bed time.

Posted by Troll on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

Where's the data to back up your assertion?

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

I never said the lack of a recall was because of the poor job the city has done with the suspension. I said there's no recall because people didn't care enough to mount one in the short period allowed. Troll II may be right that even a fervent anti-Mirkarimi group couldn't have done it. My complaint is that, even though I believe most San Franciscans would prefer he not be the Sheriff, there isn't a sufficiently fervent anti-Mirkarimi group willing to take action. So much for the vast right-wing conspiracy theory.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 11:28 am

If the 8 Washington effort cost $150,000 I think that Mirkarimi would cost less. I don't think that most citizens have a visceral reaction one way or another towards one 12 story building. Which is probably where the whole '165 foot wall' thing came from.

But if you mention Mirkarimi to many people they will recoil in horror. It may not be fair and it may not even be his fault but 'Mirkarimi' has become a poster child for sleazy politicians with trophy wives. Maybe it is just shooting the messenger but I think that a lot of people would sign the petition just to get him to go away.

Posted by Troll on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 11:53 am

" I don't think that most citizens have a visceral reaction one way or another towards one 12 story building. "

-- Thats because the 200 million dollars the developer will make on the project is beyond the imaginations of most people.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

Maybe so, but it's still discouraging that no one's tried to find out.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

saying -- or not saying -- *anything.*

"No one's willing to do what it will take to get this scumbag out of office now that the city has done such a poor job with this suspension."

reply.Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:42 pm .

Jackass. My god you are a perfect representative of the anti-Mirkarimi cohort.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

Whatevs, lilli; as we're discovered, anyone can comment using any screen name here, even ones that are already taken. However, I am the same Guest.

I am curious to know how I'm "a perfect representative of the anti-Mirkarimi cohort." I supported his candidacy, including with money, but I think he's behaved abominably and want him gone. (That doesn't mean I have any love for Ed Lee, by the way.) If that makes me "representative," then great.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

You got a credit card...you got a limo.
The quintessential non-issue.

Posted by Chard on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

Legal defense fund. Eliana has not been charged with any crime. Did you make tht up?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 22, 2012 @ 11:48 am

Or is that for the impending divorce battle?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 22, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

I enjoyed hearing Ms. Lopez testify, and I'm not against it being extended, but, I don't want to hear Peter Keith ask the same question three additional times after he doesn't get the answer he wanted, and then hear commissioner Renne do it once more.

I heard the chair warning that the expected amount of testimony for Ms. Lopez by Keith was 2 hours, (but not a hard close) so I think the testimony will not be that long.

Not that I expect good lawyering from Lee's man, but if the witness is winning and the lawyer is losing, he should want to get her off the stand quicker.

Posted by LieEdRun on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

Is that the best you got. You don't like her limo

Posted by LieEdRun on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

You can bet if anyone anti-Mirkarimi showed up in a limo the comments here would bring down the internet.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

Pretty much sums up this whole prosecution and the vast majority of those who've been vacantly applauding the mayor's behavior.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

That's all you got?

Eliana is definitely a representative of the poor and downtrodden - when she's not flying in first class or being ferried around in limos.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

I'm confused...this article says that Lopez is staying in Venezuela because of what the Mayor did.

But wasn't that what the Mirkarimis were fighting about in the first place? That she wanted to go on an extended stay in Venezuela with their child?

Also, I think that the writer has a thing going for the 'charming' Ms. Lopez.

Posted by Pur on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

Some people are spinning it that she is changing the story for why she was in Venezuela, but it more seems to be that there are multiple reasons. The include, her family there and in particular that her father was ill, and just had an operation; the mayor stopped the Sheriff's paycheck, so as a family they decided through lawyers that the husband live in the house, rather than pay for a new place, and that she move to her own house in her country where the cost of living was 25%, and she could find work.

Posted by LieEdRun on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

And where, no doubt, she has a tidy savings account (and doesn't have to run into Ivory Madison and Abraham Mertens in the street and explain her lies).

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

There may be multiple reasons why she is in Venezuela, but this article makes it seem as if the only reason she is there is because of things that the Mayor did when it fact there were many factors in play even before 12/31 and she is known to have wanted to go long before the Mayor did anything.

So it just seems as if the writer took an improper shot at the Mayor. Just Sayin!

Posted by Pur on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

Witness her 7-8th sockpuppet here - a Twitter feed with no followers!

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

The biggest thing I have learned from the hearings is you can phone a bomb threat to the mayor and not get caught.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

LOL. Are you allowed to say that.?

Posted by LieEdRun on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

Or perhaps not "in on it," but just happens to, by pure coincidence, benefit by having the bomb threat give him an excuse to flee the hot seat. Then, not only will you not get caught, but there won't even be an investigation.

But don't try it on your own.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

"making the standoff between a charming Lopez and flailing Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith even more pivotal..."

Holy sh*t are you kidding me?? The "star of the show". And you actually attempted to use direct quotes from Mirkarimi's attorney as some sort of objective measure of the state of the case??

This is the lefty equivalent of Fox News, except on *massive steroids*. It's actually creepy. You're creepy.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

Let's be fair to Steven here. He didn't just provide quotes from Mirkarimi's team, he also...oh..wait...

Never mind. Forget what I said.

Posted by Troll on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

The Guardian has never explicitly claimed to be objective, has it?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 3:43 pm