San Francisco’s mayor and city attorney have fired their opening salvo of documents in the pending Ethics Commission hearing against embattled, suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi, 50, after he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment related to a New Year’s Eve altercation that left a bruise on the arm of his wife, Venezuelan former telenovela star Eliana Lopez. Lee and City Attorney Dennis Herrera will be trading briefs with Mirkarimi’s lawyers in the coming weeks to set the stage for testimony on whether the sheriff should lose his job permanently; if the commission upholds the charges, it would take a vote of nine of 11 city and county supervisors to toss him from office.
The city’s 34-page opening brief outlines the official misconduct charges against Mirkarimi, alleging that he committed domestic violence, threatened to use his power as a public official against his wife in family court, took part in efforts to dissuade witnesses and destroy evidence, and so on. It lays out the city’s views on what standard of proof should apply, what kind of evidence the commission should rely upon, whether Mirkarimi can be held responsible for official misconduct that occurred before he was sworn in, whether the commission must act unanimously, and so on.
“While Sheriff Mirkarimi has contended elsewhere that these proceedings somehow undermine the democratic process, nothing could be further from the truth,” Deputy City Attorney Sherri Sokeland Kaiser wrote in the brief.
“When San Francisco voters democratically elected Sheriff Mirkarimi, they did not know and could not know that he would later engage in the behavior that led to these official misconduct proceedings,” she wrote. “That very problem is the reason why San Francisco voters democratically enacted the Charter removal provisions. The Ethics Commission advances democratic rule and fulfills its Charter mandate by following the removal process democratically established by the People themselves.”
But this isn’t a criminal court proceeding, Kaiser cautioned.
“The Mayor is seeking to remove Sheriff Mirkarimi from his office, not punish him or impose any criminal sanction,” Kaiser wrote. “Neither the Charter nor any other law requires the Commission to adopt a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof or to make its recommendation by unanimous vote. The Charter simply requires the Commission to hold a hearing, compile a record, and vote to make a recommendation as to whether to sustain the charges against Sheriff Mirkarimi.”
A separate, eight-page letter re-asserts that Mirkarimi has a duty under the city’s Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code and other ethics laws to cooperate with the city attorney’s investigation of his conduct, and like anyone else, must also comply with mayoral subpoenas. It also clarifies that the commission doesn’t take part in the mayor’s and city attorney’s investigation, but rather lets them serve as prosecutor while it acts as judge.
The city’s initial witness list includes Mayor Ed Lee; the two police inspectors who investigating Mirkarimi’s domestic violence case; retired Undersheriff Jan Dempsey and former Sheriff Michael Hennessey, to talk about the transition period from Mirkarimi’s November election through his Jan. 8 swearing-in; Christina Flores, Mirkarimi’s former girlfriend, who gave sworn court testimony about a previous domestic-violence incident; Eliana Lopez, Mirkarimi’s wife; Ivory Madison, the neighbor who photographed Lopez’ bruised arm and informed police; Linnette Peralta Haynes, Mirkarimi’s campaign manager, who allegedly asked Madison and Lopez not to tell police; Callie Williams, another of the Mirkarimis’ neighbors, who overheard other arguments; and others.