Ethics panel to share sheriff ruling 

click to enlarge Awaiting decision: Suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi listens to proceedings during his Ethics Commission hearing over a domestic abuse incident with his wife. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Awaiting decision: Suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi listens to proceedings during his Ethics Commission hearing over a domestic abuse incident with his wife.

Nearly eight months after San Francisco’s sheriff was arrested on domestic violence charges involving his wife, The City’s Ethics Commission will weigh in this morning on whether he’s fit to hold elected office.

Mayor Ed Lee brought official misconduct charges to begin removal proceedings against Ross Mirkarimi in March when the sheriff pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in exchange for dismissal of three other misdemeanor domestic violence charges.

What followed was a series of tense Ethics Commission hearings structured much like court proceedings and designed to build a record on which commissioners could recommend Mirkarimi’s reinstatement or permanent removal. That opinion and written record will guide the final judgment of the Board of Supervisors — the body that ultimately will decide Mirkarimi’s fate in the midst of election season.

Closing arguments suggested that precedent could be set on what constitutes official misconduct. The City Charter defines it as: “any wrongful behavior by a public officer in relation to the duties of his or her office, willful in its character, including any failure, refusal or neglect of an officer to perform any duty enjoined on him or her by law, or conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action.”

Mirkarimi’s attorneys argue that because he didn’t assume office until a week after his Dec. 31 spat with his wife, he could not have engaged in official misconduct. But the City Attorney’s Office says Mirkarimi’s conviction is directly related to his official duties, given that the sheriff oversees domestic violence prevention programs and manages jails that house such convicts.

Having heard and read conflicting accounts of whether Mirkarimi abused the power of his office in a potential custody battle over his 3-year-old son or tried to dissuade neighbors from talking about the dispute, commissioners could decide that his conviction alone is enough to constitute official misconduct. But Eliana Lopez, Mirkarimi’s wife, said the case is overblown since it was based on a single physical incident that resulted in a bruise on her arm, which she argues was then taken out of context by the neighbor who first alerted police.

Attorneys for the mayor say such statements are typical of domestic violence victims.

“She told her friends and neighbors what happened, and recorded and recounted those events on video and in emails and text messages,” the closing argument stated. “It is unfortunate but not unusual that Ms. Lopez later recanted and disavowed her earlier credible statements.”

Mirkarimi’s attorneys argue that only two underlying facts resulted from the ethics hearings, and that neither could possibly amount to official misconduct. The violence itself occurred before he took office, they argue, and the March guilty plea refers only to that pre-inauguration misconduct.

“Neither grabbing his wife’s arm nor pleading guilty to a misdemeanor bears any relation at all to the enumerated duties of the sheriff,” they argued. “In other words, he was not engaged in the performance or neglect of any of these duties when he grabbed his wife’s arm or pled guilty to a misdemeanor.”

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Dan Schreiber

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