As attorneys for The City press their official misconduct case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, he’s looking to an odd source to pay his legal bills — The City.
Mirkarimi argued in a letter to the City Attorney’s Office that as an elected official, he’s just as entitled to be provided legal counsel as Mayor Ed Lee, who suspended the newly elected sheriff in March after he pleaded guilty in a highly publicized domestic violence case involving his wife.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera disagrees with the embattled sheriff’s legal logic. Herrera responded with another letter, essentially arguing that Mirkarimi has a false sense of entitlement and that even if he were entitled to publicly funded lawyers, his request was too late.
The letter was addressed in part to Mirkarimi attorney Shepard Kopp, and told him that the suspended sheriff is “belatedly demanding that The City pay your legal fees” and that “the City Attorney’s Office will not authorize the use of taxpayer funds for this purpose.”
Herrera notes that the City Charter requires San Francisco’s attorneys to represent city offices, not individuals. In this case, Herrera explains, the action of the Mayor’s Office — not necessarily the mayor himself — is what the City Attorney is responsible to uphold.
Mirkarimi, a former Board of Supervisors member, is not being paid during his suspension, which is now more than two months old. During the first few weeks of his new term as sheriff, he pledged to forego pay on days that he’d have to take time off to face his criminal proceedings in court. But according to the City Controller’s Office, his pay was never docked.
He has since complained in media interviews that he currently has no way to support his wife, Eliana Lopez, and their 3-year-old son, Theo. Both are currently staying in Lopez’s home country of Venezuela, and she recently revealed in a television interview with ABC7 (KGO) that she’s not sure if she’ll return to San Francisco.
Since 2004, Mirkarimi earned a supervisor salary, which was an annual $98,469. During his brief time as sheriff, he was set to earn about $200,000 per year. Legal attempts by Mirkarimi to restore his pay during the suspension were unsuccessful.
The City’s Ethics Commission will continue to hear the official misconduct case June 19, but proceedings could extend well into the summer. The commission will eventually make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on whether to uphold the suspension and remove Mirkarimi from office permanently. Removal would require votes from nine of the 11 supervisors.
Examiner Staff Writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.