Ousting Sheriff Mirkarimi would be hard for Mayor Lee 

click to enlarge The question for the mayor is whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's crime constitutes "official misconduct." - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • The question for the mayor is whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's crime constitutes "official misconduct."

The standard for removing Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office seems straightforward on its face, but history shows that such actions aren’t as easy as they may appear.

Mirkarimi pleaded guilty on Monday to false imprisonment, a deal that will lead to the dismissal of three other domestic violence charges against him. The plea agreement allows the sheriff to keep his job — at least for now.

Under the City Charter’s “official misconduct” clause, the mayor may seek the ouster of officials who display “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers.” But the question of removal will likely hinge on whether Mirkarimi’s crime was related to his job.

Mayor Ed Lee is mulling whether to seek Mirkarimi’s ouster, and said Tuesday that he will wait until after Mirkarimi’s sentencing on Monday to make a decision.
Under the charter, a mayor may suspend an official but for the removal to be binding it must be upheld by nine of 11 members of the Board of Supervisors — the panel Mirkarimi served on for eight years before being elected sheriff.

A case from 1976 set the basic precedent for Mirkarimi’s situation, according to City Attorney’s Office spokesman Jack Song. In that year, Mayor George Moscone suspended labor leader Joe Mazzola from The City’s Airport Commission, and his removal was later upheld by 10 of 11 supervisors. But Mazzola won reinstatement from the Court of Appeals, which ruled that his suspension had nothing to do with his official duties.

In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom sought Supervisor Ed Jew’s removal for lying about where he lived when he ran for office, but Jew resigned before a decision came to pass.

Lee told The San Francisco Chronicle on Monday that his “gut feeling” was that the new charge pointed to a clear job conflict for Mirkarimi, whereas the previous three charges didn’t necessarily constitute “official misconduct.” But the mayor backed off those comments Tuesday, and said he was reacting to the case’s “new twist.”

Now, Lee says he’s seeking more detail from prosecutors about the nature of the false imprisonment, which he said could pose a conflict, considering the sheriff’s primary role is overseeing inmates in local jails. On Monday, the mayor said it would be his “duty” to seek Mirkarimi’s removal if the facts of the guilty plea meet the official misconduct standard.

Prosecutors were mum on Monday as to exactly what wrongdoing resulted in that charge.

Court documents alleged that Mirkarimi told his wife, Eliana Lopez, that he could win a custody battle over the couple’s 2-year-old son, because he is a “powerful man.” The sheriff became embroiled in the court case after allegations by a neighbor that Mirkarimi bruised his wife’s arm during an argument at home on New Year’s Eve.


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Dan Schreiber

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