San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today rejected embattled Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s request that taxpayers foot the bill for lawyers he hired to defend himself against an attempt to boot him from office for official misconduct – having bruised his wife in an argument.
Mirkarimi sent a letter to Herrera dated May 15 but received just this Tuesday citing a San Francisco Charter section dealing with elected officers’ and department heads’ right to engage outside counsel in instances when the city attorney’s office has a conflict of interests.
The city attorney’s office has erected a “screen” to separate lawyers representing Mayor Ed Lee from those advising the Ethics Commission or Board of Supervisors in Mirkarimi’s misconduct hearing, the sheriff wrote, but has not carved out anyone to represent him.
“Moreover, the actions of your office thus far in these proceedings demonstrate that neither you nor anyone in your office could ethically represent me,” Mirkarimi wrote. “Without cataloging every action you have taken, suffice it to say you chose to represent the Mayor in derogation of your equally compelling legal duty to represent me.”
Not so, Herrera responded today in a letter to Mirkarimi’s lawyers.
The charter section Mirkarimi cited doesn’t apply here, in that it doesn’t require the city to provide personal representation to suspended city officers, Herrera wrote; rather, it makes clear that the city attorney’s client is the city and county, not individual elected officials. “There is simply no basis for your client’s demand for City funded representation.”
“Contrary to your client’s implication, this proceeding is not a private dispute between the Mayor and the Sheriff,” he wrote, citing a Superior Court’s recent ruling. “As the court recognized, the City Attorney’s Office represents the Mayor’s Office in the pending official misconduct proceedings, just as we continue to represent and advise the Sheriff’s Office regarding City business. This office has no conflict of interest here.”
“(T)he City does not pay for private counsel to represent employees charged with misconduct,” he concluded. “Your client’s position as an elected official is no different and does not entitle him to that personal benefit at taxpayer expense.”
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. If the Ethics Commission upholds the charges, it would take a vote of nine of 11 city and county supervisors to toss him from office.