A judge ruled today that San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s trial on charges of domestic violence against his wife will be allowed to include an ex-girlfriend of Mirkarimi’s who says he also abused her during their prior relationship.
However, where that trial will be held is now in doubt after Mirkarimi’s defense attorney Lidia Stiglich filed a motion this morning to have the case heard in a different county, citing the high publicity the case has received.
Mirkarimi, 50, has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness in connection with a Dec. 31 incident in which he allegedly grabbed and bruised the arm of his wife, Eliana Lopez, during an argument.
Lopez has denied the accusations against her husband but prosecutors have sought to include in evidence a 55-second video recorded by the couple’s neighbor that reportedly shows Lopez crying, pointing to the bruise on her arm and recounting the incident.
Days after prosecutors filed charges against Mirkarimi on Jan. 13, Christina Flores, an ex-girlfriend of his, filed a police report saying he was also abusive to her when they dated between June 2007 and December 2008.
Judge Garrett Wong ordered Flores, who now lives in Southern California, to come to San Francisco for a private meeting so he could determine whether to allow her to testify.
The meeting began behind closed doors on Friday and was continued to today, when it was opened to the public following a request by the media.
Flores recounted this afternoon what she said were three incidents of verbal abuse and a fourth of physical abuse in which Mirkarimi allegedly grabbed her arm during an argument, similar to the accusations involving Lopez.
Flores said the argument began when she found women’s underwear in Mirkarimi’s home that did not belong to her, and when she turned to leave his home, he grabbed her arm. She said after he saw the bruise the following day, he apologized.
Flores said their on-again, off-again relationship came to a halt in late 2008 when Mirkarimi returned from a trip to Brazil and “reported a one-night stand and he supposedly had gotten someone pregnant,” a woman that turned out to be Lopez.
She said, “I was in complete shock,” yet continued contact with him, during which she said Mirkarimi allegedly expressed doubt about whether the child was his, and told Flores he didn’t want his son raised in Lopez’s home country of Venezuela, calling it “a Third World country and filthy.”
The relationship finally ended for good in December 2008 when Flores said another woman told her Mirkarimi was also seeing her and they “swapped Ross stories.”
Stiglich asked Flores why she did not come forward with her allegations until after Mirkarimi had been arrested for the case with his wife.
Flores said, “I didn’t want to deal with him any more … I wanted to let it go.”
But after seeing Lopez refuse to testify in the case, Flores said she came forward because “I felt she was bullied into taking her story back.”
Stiglich argued that Flores’ testimony was “profoundly inconsistent” and said she had “a strong motivation to fabricate,” citing one of the last emails she sent to Mirkarimi, in which she wrote him a poem and allegedly threatened to release unsavory details about him.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Aguilar-Tarchi, on the other hand, argued that Flores’ testimony should be admitted because “it presents a truthful picture of Mr. Mirkarimi’s propensity for violence with female intimate partners.”
Aguilar-Tarchi said by coming forward, Flores “came to the aid of a lady she didn’t even know … not for any motive or scheme to set up a prior boyfriend.”
At the end of the hearing, Judge Garrett Wong said he would admit Flores’ testimony in the trial, saying “the evidence is extremely probative” and “shows a propensity” for violence by Mirkarimi.
While Flores’ testimony will be included in the trial, where she will make that testimony is in doubt after Stiglich today filed a change of venue motion, citing the “widespread inflammatory media coverage of the case.”
Stiglich said questionnaires filled out by prospective jurors last week “just lend credibility to the request,” saying “this jury, they think they know a lot about this case.”
The trial, which was expected to start as soon as Wednesday, will also likely be delayed after attorneys for Lopez filed an appeal last Friday arguing against the use of the video recorded by the neighbor Ivory Madison.
Lopez’s attorney Paula Canny argued that the video should be disallowed because of attorney-client privilege, saying that Madison has advertised herself as being “trained as an attorney.”
Canny said Lopez believed Madison to be a licensed attorney, but later discovered that while she graduated law school, she never passed the bar exam and is not licensed.
The appeal is being reviewed by the San Francisco Superior Court’s appellate division, which is made up of three Superior Court judges. Prosecutors have until Wednesday to respond to the appeal, then Canny will have the opportunity to make a subsequent rebuttal by Friday.
Meanwhile, while all of those matters are still being settled, jury selection will continue in the case on Tuesday morning.
After starting the process last week, the court today dismissed 54 of 185 people still in the potential jury pool, according to San Francisco Superior Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan.
One of the remaining prospective jurors is Supervisor Eric Mar, who will be required to return to court again on Tuesday, according to an aide at the supervisor’s office at City Hall.
Mirkarimi served with Mar on the Board of Supervisors until being elected as sheriff in November.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News