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

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.


...this case - and just get them to fill potholes.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

And that's saying something.

"Playfully charming"? Give me a break. She's a freaking actress, you dufus.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

Wasn't Steven quick to point out that she was an actress when she appeared in the original video, bruised and in tears?

But now that she has changed her story...how charming.

Posted by Troll on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

In the video she points to the bruise and says "it's happened before". Now she claims it only happened once. Was she lying then or is she lying now?

I don't think we can believe a word she says. She has been coached to the max, and is single-mindedly focused on Ross getting his paycheck back, else where is her child support and alimony going to come from?

Throw in her soap-opera'ish camp acting "skills" and it's a worthless and self-serving testimony.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 2:18 am

It's not as if she is loaded with respect for our legal system.

She has a vested interest in repairing Mirkarimi's ability to earn a good living. Plus she probably still cares about him.

And Theo is safe and sound with her parents in Venezuela. Do they extradite 3 year olds as part of custody disputes?

Posted by Troll on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 8:17 am

That Eliana is one hot mess.....contradicting herself and not making a lot of sense.
Maybe she'll go back to Venezuela and her movie career will take off so she can take care of her baby daddy now that he's not employable. They should change the song from "I left my heart in San Francisco " to "I left a few panties in San Francisco" as a tribute to Karmarimi. He's going to need to get a day job.Maybe he could start an all male brothel and raise money for the city's coffers through male prostitution. Now there's a progressive thought.

Posted by GuestPamela not so nice on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:06 am

of the obvious appeal of the very beautiful Eliana.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 9:01 am

Reduced to sockpuppetry in her weirdly obsessive crusade to defend Ross and Eliana.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 10:38 am

She's hot!

Posted by Chromefields on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 8:29 am

in her questioning of Linnette Peralta Haynes.

Perhaps we need such attack dog lawyers for going after people who are trying to scam free money out of the city through frivolous lawsuits, but such attitudinal behavior put forward *on* *the* *city's* *dime* for the purposes of overturning an election according to the whim of the city's political machine has no place in our democracy.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 11:29 am

a good case. One should blame them however for being so woefully unprepared so often and then particularly Ms. Kaiser thinking it's cute to blow off her repeated unpreparedness re: the Exhibits as no big deal...on your dime.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

I know another time Ed Lee lied, when he promised he would not run for office after his one-year appointment.

Honesty, honor, fairness, keeping your word...these have no meaning for that weasel in the mayor's office.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

Ed Lee narrowly avoids a perjury hearing? Sure didn't see that coming from, like, the day he was appointed.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

Ms Kaiser must have obtained her law degree from an on-line diploma mill.
I continue to be impressed with the way Ben Hur is conducting these proceedings, he seems personable, objective, thoughtful, decisive and well prepared, unlike 'Stumbling Sherri'.
I hope the alleged perjury committed by Mr Ed will be pursued with as much zeal, allocation of public resources and sworn testimony as is being spent here. While David Waggoner's appeal was compelling, even The Chief Commish acknowledged that, his decision that it was not relevant to the specific issue of 'official misconduct' that they have to rule on was probably correct. The Mayor's possible 'misconduct' should be fully investigated in another forum. I may be wrong but wouldn't it be the City Attorney's 'sworn duty' to follow up

Posted by Patrick Monk RN on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

Would no one think there would be a conflict if Lee's opponent in the mayor's race did that? Or is it OK because Lee's not a "progressive"?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

Well the City Attorney is obviously a conflict, so is the DA so the next step is the CA Attorney General who in this case is a bit of a conflict so she would probably appoint a special investigator.

The problem is that in California, as in most if not all of the country, one person saying that you lied without offering any corroboration is a non starter. Especially Aaron Peskin saying that 'he got the impression' that Lee was involved isn't even a consideration. Sorry!

Posted by Troll on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

She certainly is a charmer! However, her comments sometimes tended to be confusing and with English as a second language I think she had difficulty explaining herself. I think this whole issue is political. It should be a family matter. Abuse is a serious thing but this should be resolved between the couple and a therapist. Since I don't feel that Ross did abuse his wife and her attorney friend did misrepresent herself to Eliana, I feel that he should still be Sheriff and can successfully perform his duties.I really hope this goes away soon.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 3:23 pm