The San Francisco Ethics Commission Tuesday night decided on the rules and format of suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s administrative hearing on official misconduct charges, which will begin witness testimony next month.
Mirkarimi pleaded guilty in March to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge in connection with a Dec. 31 incident in which he grabbed and bruised the arm of his wife, Eliana Lopez, during an argument.
He was sentenced to three years’ probation and other penalties and was suspended without pay by Mayor Ed Lee.
Under the city charter, Mirkarimi has the right to defend himself at a hearing of the Ethics Commission, which will then make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on whether to uphold the charges and remove him from office or reinstate him as sheriff.
At a boisterous meeting at City Hall this evening, the Ethics Commission decided that only a majority of commissioners will be necessary to approve the recommendation.
The commissioners also agreed that the recommendation would be made based on preponderance of the evidence, the standard in most civil cases, rather than the criminal requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The bulk of the six-hour-long hearing consisted of deputy city attorneys and attorneys representing Mirkarimi haggling over what type of testimony would be submitted–either written or oral–and by whom.
Mirkarimi’s attorney Shepard Kopp said, “In our view … the only two witnesses that definitely should be testifying are Sheriff Mirkarimi and Mayor Lee.”
Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser said she thought it was better “to err on the side of over-inclusiveness” and include testimony by as many people as necessary to give the commission and the Board of Supervisors the full facts of the case.
Commission chair Benedict Hur said that he thought there were “far too many people” on the witness lists proposed by both sides, and the commission eventually pared down those lists by several people. “This is a narrow, fact-finding investigation,” Hur said.
The exclusion of those witnesses, which included former Mayor Art Agnos, was based on what the commissioners determined was either the irrelevance of their likely testimony or a lack of disagreement between the two sides about its substance.
The rest of the witnesses, which include Mirkarimi, Lee and Lopez, will be required to submit written declarations about the case by June 8.
Those witnesses could then be required to testify in person at the next hearing in the case at the Ethics Commission, scheduled for June 19, or at another hearing scheduled later that month.
Kopp said that arrangements could possibly be made for Lopez, who has gone back to her native Venezuela to care for her ill father, to testify via video if she cannot return to the U.S. for the hearing.
A key piece of evidence from the criminal case, a video recorded by a neighbor of Lopez crying and pointing to a bruise on her arm, was not discussed by commissioners at tonight’s hearing.
A judge earlier this month ruled that the video could be released for use at the administrative hearing over the objections of the attorneys of Lopez and Mirkarimi.
At least 200 people attended today’s hearing, the overwhelming majority of which supported Mirkarimi, who addressed the crowd before the proceedings began.
“I cannot tell you, on behalf of me and my family, how grateful we are,” he said.
The supporters, some of which held up signs saying “STAND WITH ROSS,” had to be admonished repeatedly by the commissioners and sheriff’s deputies for outbursts during the hearing.
The hearing wrapped up at 11:30 p.m. following more than an hour of public comment on the case.
Kopp said that he was pleased that the commission could finish its hearings on the case by the end of June.
“I’m excited by that,” he said. “I don’t think the process should drag on.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News