Before The City’s Ethics Commission kicks off its official misconduct investigation of suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarmi in about three weeks, it will first have to vote on the ground rules that will govern the hearing.
Those decisions will not only determine what sort of evidence commissioners rely upon as they decide whether to recommend the ex-sheriff’s permanent ouster, but also the likely tenor and volume of news coverage of the ethics inquest.
Key issues to be decided are whether the commission should allow live testimony and whether a video of Mirkarimi’s wife talking about an alleged domestic violence incident could end up as evidence during the proceedings.
“The first hearing we have will be to establish what the procedure will be,” said commission Executive Director John St. Croix.
Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi Wednesday by serving him with official misconduct charges that he says warrants the ex-sheriff’s permanent removal from office for events surrounding the New Year’s Day incident that left his wife Eliana Lopez with a bruised arm. The commission will recommend to the Board of Supervisors whether or not it should permanently remove Mirkarimi from office. It would take at least nine of the 11 board members to uphold the suspension and oust him from office.
Mirkarimi is poised to become just the second elected official to face removal proceedings before the commission as a result of criminal behavior.
In 2007, after former Supervisor Ed Jew was suspended for lying about where he lived to run for office, there were two hearings before the Ethics Commission about protocol and other legal questions. An actual misconduct hearing on evidence and testimony never began because Jew — who also ultimately pled guilty to extorting cash bribes from local businesses — ended up resigning.
The commission had asked both Jew’s attorney and the city attorney, who at the mayor’s behest argues the misconduct charges, to file legal briefs on such issues as the legal definition of “official misconduct” and what is the burden of proof and who bears it. The commission also was considering whether it should allow live testimony.
On Monday, Mirkarimi was sentenced to one day in jail and three years of probation. He was required to undergo 52 weeks of domestic violence batterer’s classes and complete 100 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge. Other charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness were dropped.
Mirkarimi was in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday for an orientation with the adult probation department and he had little to say. “I think I've said everything,” he told reporters.
His attorney in the misconduct proceedings, David Waggoner, has not returned this newspaper’s calls for comment.