The San Francisco Ethics Commission hearing on the case of suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi ended without much action Tuesday night, but there could be fireworks when the sheriff begins live testimony in front of the commission next week.
Mirkarimi is facing possible removal from office by Mayor Ed Lee, who suspended him without pay on official misconduct charges in March following the sheriff’s guilty plea to misdemeanor false imprisonment in connection with a Dec. 31 argument with his wife, Eliana Lopez, in which he grabbed and bruised her arm.
Lee had stern words for Mirkarimi when speaking to reporters about the case earlier Tuesday before the commission hearing.
“As one of the top law enforcement officials for the city, he ought not to have engaged in the beating of his wife. That’s what it comes down to,” he said.
The mayor and city attorney’s office have argued that Mirkarimi’s conviction, for which he was sentenced to three years’ probation and other penalties, prevents him from adequately serving his duties as sheriff and falls below the standard of decency expected of an elected official.
But under the city charter, Mirkarimi has a right to defend himself against the charges at the Ethics Commission, which will then make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on whether to remove him from office or reinstate him as sheriff.
Tuesday’s was the third in a series of hearings at the commission, and the attorneys for both Mirkarimi and the city attorney’s office spent most of the four-hour-plus hearing parsing over written declarations submitted by various witnesses in the case and arguing whether they should be admissible.
No witnesses were called to provide live testimony, but both sides agreed that Mirkarimi and Lee will be among the people to speak when the commission holds further hearings in the case next week.
Mirkarimi is expected to be called on to provide live testimony in front of the commission on June 28, while Lee is expected to do the same the following day.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the commission ruled inadmissible a large portion of the lengthy declaration of one of the city attorney’s central witnesses, Ivory Madison, a neighbor who took a 45-second video of Lopez showing the bruise on her arm the day after the argument, then later reported the incident to police.
The 22-page declaration by Madison alleged that Lopez told her about abuse that was more extensive than what the sheriff has acknowledged. Lopez, who is in Venezuela caring for her ill father, has publicly denied being abused by Mirkarimi.
“A first-year lawyer could recognize that much of it is inadmissible,” said Paul Renne, one of the commissioners. “It’s clearly hearsay, and solely for the purpose of poisoning the well in this hearing.”
The video was also discussed by the commission, which agreed to let both sides file briefs about its admissibility before deciding whether to enter it in the record. The video was publicly released by the city attorney’s office three weeks ago.
Other witnesses and experts could take the stand on June 28 or 29, or at an as-yet-unscheduled future hearing in the case in mid-July, commission chair Benedict Hur said.
Mirkarimi rebuked the mayor’s statement from earlier in the day while speaking to reporters during a break in Tuesday’s hearing, saying Lee was “resorting to sensationalism and smear.”
Mirkarimi’s attorney David Waggoner also said following the hearing that the Ethics Commission’s decision to strike many parts of various declarations presented by the city attorney’s office shows that the mayor has a weak case.
“You saw tonight the commission strike nearly half of everything the mayor submitted as either hearsay or irrelevant or prejudicial,” Waggoner said Tuesday. “They don’t have any real facts, they don’t have any real evidence.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News