A packed, at times raucous, hearing Tuesday evening for the possible permanent dismissal of suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi produced indications that the Ethics Commission would like to narrow the focus and quicken the pace of what will likely be a contentious public spectacle.
The hearing — which lasted several hours and was interrupted several times by angry shouts from a heavily pro-Mirkarimi crowd, which numbered at least 200 — was the second in two months on Mayor Ed Lee’s effort to remove the progressive former supervisor for “official misconduct.”
Lee suspended Mirkarimi without pay in March after his guilty plea to the misdemeanor false imprisonment of his wife, Eliana Lopez, during an alleged New Year’s Eve domestic violence incident.
On Tuesday, the five-member Ethics Commission set out to further shape the ground rules for the hearings, which could last for months. The commission will eventually issue a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors regarding Mirkarimi’s future.
At the outset, Mirkarimi was cheered with a standing ovation from the audience.
“I cannot tell you, on behalf of me and my family, how grateful we are,” Mirkarimi told them.
Prosecutors for The City were jeered, hissed and laughed at by spectators, amid grumbles about “hearsay” evidence, “piling on” and wastes of taxpayer money. There were chants of “shame on Lee.”
There also were threats to remove audience members for making “rude comments” to attorneys for The City.
Calmer heads eventually prevailed.
The commission sided with the mayor on two important points. It agreed to hold its standard of proof of official misconduct to “a preponderance of the evidence,” a lesser standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that Mirkarimi’s attorneys had requested. And it agreed to a simple majority rather than a unanimous decision.
The commission also trimmed The City’s witness list in favor of a “narrow, fact-finding investigation.”
And while commissioners agreed with Mirkarimi’s defense that some of the many witnesses called by The City were irrelevant to the case, they also felt some of Mirkarimi’s witnesses were unnecessary, including his friend the former Mayor Art Agnos, who was expected to attack Lee’s credibility.
Mirkarimi has repeatedly insinuated that the attempt to remove him is political payback from his enemies.
The commission is expected to hold another hearing next month.