Commission narrows Mirkarimi charges to one but recommends removal

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Ross Mirkarimi with Eliana Lopez, attorney David Waggoner, and his mother, Nancy Kolman Ventrone (right), after the ruling.
Steven T. Jones

The Ethics Commission today unanimously rejected most of Mayor Ed Lee’s official misconduct charges against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi – including abuse of power, impeding a police investigation, and dissuading witnesses – but voted 4-1 to recommend the Board of Supervisors find him guilty of official misconduct for grabbing his wife’s arm on Dec. 31 and pleading guilty to the resulting misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment.

The sole dissenting vote, Chair Benedict Hur, said he had “grave concerns” that such as a broad interpretation of what behaviors constitute official misconduct would give mayors a “strong tool” to inappropriately remove their political adversaries (or at least invite charges that they were), as Mirkarimi supporters allege is happening now.

But the rest of the commission adopted a broad interpretation of what city officials and voters intended in 1995 when they overhauled the City Charter and added a new official misconduct clause banning “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers.”

“I have a lot of concerns about where you draw the line if you don’t relate it to official duties,” Hur said, appealing to his colleagues that, “I think this charter provision was meant to be narrow.”

Commissioner Paul Renne – who in earlier hearings had taken a strong role in excluding prejudicial evidence against Mirkarimi and was thought to be a possible vote in his favor – today led the charge in interpreting misconduct in the broadest possible way, arguing it didn’t even have to be related to his official duties, while the three other votes against Mirkarimi made the case that his conduct and conviction were related to a sheriff’s role overseeing the jail and its domestic violence programs.

“I think the voters would be shocked if we were to say a public official who pleaded guilty to domestic violence has not committed an act of official misconduct,” Renne said.

But Mirkarimi’s attorneys and supporters – who outnumbered those urging his removal (mostly domestic violence advocates) by more than 4-to-1 during the three hours of public testimony taken today – say the shocking thing is for a just-elected official to be unilaterally removed from office by a political adversary for reasons that today’s proceedings showed were tenuous.

“No case has ever been upheld in court to remove an elected official for a low-level misdemeanor,” said Paula Canny, the attorney for Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, who sat next to and supported his husband throughout today’s nine-hour proceedings.

Indeed, the city is wading into uncharted waters and the commission had few court precedents to draw from in making its findings. It’s also possible that the charter provision is unconstitutionally vague, as Mirkarimi’s attorneys have alleged, both here and in court, with an earlier judge opting to wait until after the city’s process plays out before ruling on the question.

But first, it will be up to the Board of Supervisors, where nine votes on the 11-member body are required to remove Mirkarimi. Today’s hearing got complicated at the end – as commissioners wrestled with what it means to essentially throw out the mayor’s charges and adopt their own more narrow accusation, and how to present everything to the board – that it decided to hold one more meeting in early September to adopt a summary and send everything to the board, which will then have 30 days to act.  

“I leave this process concerned that the will of the voters is being undermined,” Mirkarimi told reporters after the hearing. Holding his hand, Lopez said, “I’m shocked to see what happened today, but we are fighters.”

 

For complete coverage and analysis of what happened today, what it means, and what’s next, read next week’s Bay Guardian.

Comments

the misconduct was related to the duties of the office. Even I, as someone who think Ross should have resigned months ago and who has supported Lee's actions, only think Ross should go because this bears directly on his ability to perform his duties. It seems obvious to me that we can't have a sheriff who has just admitted false imprisonment and who clearly committed DV.

However, if Ross had been in charge of Muni, Parks, Libraries, DPT or a host of other non-LE departments, I would have given him the benefit of the doubt. (Not that those posts are elected, but just on general principles.)

So, all in all, a fair and balanced decision where everyone gets something out of it.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

Troll,
He plea bargained his way out because he couldn't get a fair judge or jury in this town or any other since DA Gascon smeared it all over the press before the trial ever got started.

I suppose you support that, too, especially if you support Mayor Lee's actions.

Why don't you suggest that Mayor Lee take up the Fire Chief situation. That is still in effect as she cracked a beer stein over her hubby's head not to mention the children eyewitnessing that and being scared. Now she failed to pay child support and was ordered by a court to do so. Doesn't that fall BELOW THE LEVEL OF DECENCY OF A PUBLIC OFFICIAL!!!!

Before you judge Sheriff Mirkarimi on having a heated argument with his wife and grabbing her arm which she then pulled away, you need to get your comparison's straight.

Uh, a sheriff who has reconciliated this incident and now in rehabiliation over a fire chief also sworn to protect the public and property who is now a known violent drunk.

You decide and let us know. But for now, go crawl back under the bridge.

Posted by MistOfTheCity on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:52 am

ITA MistOfTheCity!!! (Funny, I typo-ed "most" of the city and fixed it!)

Posted by Terrrie Frye on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

Spousal abuse is not the province of the Fire Chief. That is why the standard is different. If the Fire Chief was seen playing with matches...maybe action could be taken. But for a prospective Sheriff to admit guilt to spousal abuse....this is CLEARLY in his province. You, like many, are blinded by your loyalty to a friend. Well, your friend made a big boo boo on his wifes arm. And a Sheriff should know better.

Posted by Guest evan gore on Aug. 21, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

As a former DV survivor for 7 years, I must say that it is NOT clear that Ross committed DV. Grabbing someone's arm in the middle of a heated discussion over whether or not to take your child to a country with much upheaval is a human reaction, not domestic violence!

Posted by Terrrie Frye on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

doubtlessly politically-inspired defense of his is futile. Ross stated on video that : "I committed an act of violence against my wife".

Try again.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

I note that there are people who are only capable of seeing in black and white. If your spouse wants you to answer a question and you deliberately don't give him or her an answer because you are arguing, is that mental cruelty?

People who are politically opposed to Mirkarimi easily substitute "beating his wife" for "bruising her arm". That says nothing about Mirkarimi but reveals much about his critics.

People who see the world as black or white are generally confident about their views. They need to conform the world to simplicities.

Posted by Bob_in_Portland on Aug. 21, 2012 @ 9:54 am

"committed an act of violence against my wife" then you're opinion of how to classify it is moot.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2012 @ 10:41 am

Sometimes simplicities are right. Sometimes it is right to prohibit the Fox from guarding the hen house. Mirkarimi would be guarding the house of abused(women). Can't you see how his actions make him unfit? An admitted wife-abuser who heads the department(sheriff) that deals with domestic abuse. Even a nice Fox should never be anywhere near the hens.

Posted by Guest evan gore on Aug. 21, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

The D.A. knew what Ross would be up in getting a plea deal, and I imagine Gascon and "firewalled" Sharon Woo the plea's author are gloating at this latest outcome. Any thinking person now recognizes that had Ross not accepted a plea deal but fought it out to vindication, we would not be here. No matter how poisoned the voter rolls credited to the nexus of District Attorney and The Chronicle's destructive campaign, we wished Ross to slug it out. But overblown criminal charges create an impossibly heavy misanthropic burden on lesser men. Ross's behavior on NYE while out of bounds and explosive, does not itself constitute a DV pattern. Ross was tried on a legal technicality for a single act and the entire affair is a legal travesty. This new standard is no point of pride for San Francisco that touts a model system.The vendetta against Ross severely damages the domestic violence cause. Women of color especially fear the swath of destruction from criminalizing marital spats. An act of behavior such as yelling, grabbing, spitting in an argument is "criminal" and will be prosecuted. Bad behavior is no longer not tolerated, it will land a tormentor in court with criminal charges. Just find a neighbor to videotape you and provide the tape to the police: You need not make the call yourself to police, have your neighbor make it.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

Guest you say: " and who clearly committed DV."

The Sheriff's wife Eliana Lopez does not agree with you, nor with the courts.

The way this city has treated her is shameful, the so called Ethic's commission has shown no ethics when they agreed that the infamous video be released in perpetuity on Youtube.

The court discounted her opinion by implying that Mrs Mirkarimi suffers from the battered women syndrome.

The way this city has treated Eliana is much worse than any arm grabbing that resulted in an accidental bruise.

Shall we put all San Franciscans on probation? Thanks.

Posted by jccourt on Aug. 22, 2012 @ 11:43 am

"I committed an act of violence against my wife".

Are you calling Ross a liar?

Posted by JCCourt/Lilli/ChrisCraft on Aug. 22, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

I think this mayor should be suspended for wasting so much of our tax money on this situation

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 9:49 pm

Or do you interpret everything according to your own private world?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

WTF are you on? First paragraph reads:

"The Ethics Commission today unanimously rejected MOST of Mayor Ed Lee’s official misconduct charges against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi – INCLUDING abuse of power, impeding a police investigation, and dissuading witnesses –"

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

end, they find Ross guilty of one or more counts that are sufficient to uphold Lee's firing.

Prosecutors always ask for far more counts than they will get to increase their odds. Didn't you know that?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

"Prosecutors always ask for far more counts than they will get to increase their odds. Didn't you know that? "

The above may be true, but if so, that's just incredibly dishonest. In an honest system, prosecutors would charge exactly as many counts as warranted. No more, no less.

Otherwise it's just a game, not a process of finding out the truth.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 12:46 am

that they can conceivably try for. They know that juries are fickle and that nobody can predict which counts they will convict on. So they go for everything.

Likewise, it enables plea bargains of the type that benefitted Ross here, making three counts go away by pleading to a lessor count.

It's the way the system works and applies equally to all bad guys.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 1:37 am

Either the person is suspected of doing something, or they are not. If they are, then charge them. If they're not, then don't. That's the way a system interested in finding the truth would work. Anything else, like throwing every conceivable charge at someone just to see what sticks, is a mockery of the word "justice."

Posted by Greg on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 7:19 am

Uh, no. Ross had to take a plea bargain because due to the malfeasance of the DA using the media to try him in the court of public opinion first, Ross couldn't get an impartial judge or jury. He could have plead "no contest" but would have ended up with who knows what sentence.

Guest troll, you're thinking is too shallow.

Posted by MistOfTheCity on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:43 am

And he subsequently admitted on tape that he "committed an act of violence against my wife".

Not sure how much open and shut you need a case to be if the perp admits it.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:59 am

Uh, I guess you believe in minority reports before the fact.
You shouldn't run for office then Guest troll. You may be indicted for having such vicious negative view on this discussion roll before you ever step foot in office despite being voted in by a wide margin by the voters of this city.

You're totally wrong Guest troll. Go crawl back into your hole.

Since the voters voted Mirkarimi in, they should be the ones to recall him. This law was, specifically, written for those officials already in office, actually, working in place. NOT to disqualify them before they get into office unless you're Ed Jew who was guilty from the start by taking actions to subvert the law.

Here Mirkarimi didn't try to subvert the law. Official misconduct is a serious offense and Mirkarimi's actions did not arise to that under state law of which it is described. Many officials commit official misconduct by frequently violating the public in both withholding public information and running public meetings to their advantage. These are both violations of state laws and our Sunshine law. Are these officials ever convicted by the Ethics Commission like Mirkarimi even though they have the same charges of official misconduct brought against them?

The answer is, uh, no. The Ethics Commission sits on their hands until someone has to sue them to produce the results. Then that threat of a lawsuit brings the city to their knees.

The Ethics Commission overstepped its bounds by voting for official misconduct.

You're totally wrong Guest troll. Go crawl back into your hole.

Posted by MistOfTheCity on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:40 am

Uh, I guess you believe in minority reports before the fact.
You shouldn't run for office then Guest troll. You may be indicted for having such vicious negative view on this discussion roll before you ever step foot in office despite being voted in by a wide margin by the voters of this city.

You're totally wrong Guest troll. Go crawl back into your hole.

Since the voters voted Mirkarimi in, they should be the ones to recall him. This law was, specifically, written for those officials already in office, actually, working in place. NOT to disqualify them before they get into office unless you're Ed Jew who was guilty from the start by taking actions to subvert the law.

Here Mirkarimi didn't try to subvert the law. Official misconduct is a serious offense and Mirkarimi's actions did not arise to that under state law of which it is described. Many officials commit official misconduct by frequently violating the public in both withholding public information and running public meetings to their advantage. These are both violations of state laws and our Sunshine law. Are these officials ever convicted by the Ethics Commission like Mirkarimi even though they have the same charges of official misconduct brought against them?

The answer is, uh, no. The Ethics Commission sits on their hands until someone has to sue them to produce the results. Then that threat of a lawsuit brings the city to their knees.

The Ethics Commission overstepped its bounds by voting for official misconduct.

You're totally wrong Guest troll. Go crawl back into your hole.

Posted by MistOfTheCity on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:44 am

accordingly. Their majority opinion was 80% which corresponds almost exactly to the voters' support for Lee's firing of Ross.

You make it sound like you think ross is the only innocent party here. He's a liar, a cheat, a wife-beater and a subverter of justice. He's also pig-headed, arrogant and conceited.

Just the kind of guy you'd support, right? Luckily the authorities see and know better.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

Now I know how they come up with these wild numbers.

First, they prefaced with a ton of negative information about Ross Mirkarimi, mentioning nothing about the politicization of the case, the mayor's perjury, or even the fact that the alleged victim was dead set against the persecution from start to finish. Just that he pled guilty to charges related to domestic violence and was put on probation.

Only after they primed you with a one-sided shpiel, did they ask the "polling" questions. Questions like:

"Do you think someone on probation for three years is capable of performing their duties as sheriff?"
"Would you be more or less likely to vote for a supervisor who allowed a sheriff on probation to continue as sheriff?"
"Which of the following is most is important in your decision whether or not Sheriff Mirkarimi should be removed from office: that he is on probation, that he pled guilty to charges related to domestic violence, that the ethics commission voted to remove him, that [something else negative that I don't recall], or are you not sure?"

The last one didn't even provide any other option than to pick something nasty to say about Mirkarimi.

Folks, this is the way these polls get done. Someone who wants Ross removed digs into their deep pockets and pays for a push poll. The poll is worthless as a poll -you almost can't help but answer the questions the way they want you to answer. But it's not a poll -it's a narrative-setting device. Because next week you're going to see a headline in the Chronicle - "New poll: 80% of San Franciscans want Sheriff Mirkarimi removed from office."

It doesn't directly transfer to votes of course. But it generates headlines, and it shapes a media narrative, and surrogates major (like elected officials) and minor (like internet trolls) talk up the narrative. This is the way it's done when you want to get people to support something they wouldn't otherwise support. Whether they're trying to build a drumbeat for war in Iran, or remove a popularly-elected sheriff, the playbook is the same. This is what Noam Chomsky means when he talks about "manufacturing consent."

Posted by Greg on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 7:37 pm

lol...the really didn't mentioned the Mayor's perjury???

I mean...Aaron Peskin said that he committed perjury. That is all the proof that anyone needs! It's not like Mirkarimi's misconduct finding. That was just the result of a 3 month EC hearing. Lee's perjury is a known fact because AARON PESKIN says it is! And they didn't even bring it up in the poll about Mirkarimi!!!

I really think that you guys have gone off the deep end. Really. The things that you are saying are just becoming pathetically desparate. And stupid, BTW.

Posted by Troll on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

They didn't bother to mention that the majority of the EC is made up of representatives of the three main individuals bringing the persecution in the first place.

Whether or not you agree with the ruling is beside the point. You may be OK with a closed system where the prosecutors are the judges, but would normal people who don't have a preconceived opinion about the case be OK with that?

Don't you think it's a valuable bit of information to know that the prosecutors are essentially the judges in this little kangaroo court? That's something they didn't bother to mention, and yet I think it's an important fact to have before making up your mind regarding this "ethics" commission ruling.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

Greg, you're someone who can talk about Mayor Lee's perjury as if it is a proven fact, even though not one single iota of due process occurred, and no usable evidence was ever produced.

But when one of your Progressive heroes is accused you will accept nothing less than the perfect due process.

It's a city government. Population 800K. You're not going to get the Supreme Court treatment but there is no reason to believe that 4 commisioners, including one that Mirkarimi voted for, are going to subvert their personal and professional ethics for a part time volunteer job that none of them need.

Posted by Troll on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

5 political appointees overturn an election, the majority of whom are appointed by the same people trying to get it overturned.

"The Supreme Court treatment" is actually a *very* apt description.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

Bush won the original election and all the recounts.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

In fact, a consortium of newpapers paid to have *all* the votes recounted, but the result got obscured and buried in the unifying aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Bush *lost* when all the contested votes in Florida were recounted.

http://www.fair.org/articles/media-recount.html

Bush *lost.*

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 20, 2012 @ 9:15 am

That's what liberals don't want you to know.

Posted by Anonymous on Aug. 20, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

See the link above. Conservatives like to make their own reality.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 22, 2012 @ 8:40 am

Yes. "Manufacturing Consent" is an apt reference here -- and a great read even today, because it is a true classic with a timeless nature.

Let's not omit mention of co-author, Edward S. Herman.

That book is an eye-opening study of the media's work: modifying the opinions of the intelligencia as well as all other malleable groups.

News of a grotesque push poll might cause me consternation, but not surprise. (What? No question regarding Lee being sprited safely away from the site of his "testi-lying" by a bogus bomb threat?)

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

But keep in mind that it could be written from any political perspective.

The entire media is in general biased in someway, also add that it's individual members are hurried, lazy and often just useless.

The book is good but keep in mind it could be written by an Ayn Rand fan, there are dozens of books by the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh who touch on the same points in Manufacturing Consent.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 19, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

...or that you are now making an honest attempt to characterize it. (Concern troll?)

It's been some time since I read it, so I know I couldn't do it justice if I were to attempt to synopsize it here, but Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky used statistical analysis of news stories appearing in the New York Times, comparing the total column-inches of reports on topics which might damage U.S. client states, with stories that might give them cover. The plight of East Timor, for instance.

Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are intellectual flyweights compared to Chomsky and Herman; they simply employ slick catch phrases and repetitive slogans. It's comparing a crooked used-car salesman to a surgeon who is foremost in his field.

I believe the point was also made in the book that reporters are in general "working class" but that newspaper owners are *not*; and that when the rubber hits the road it doesn't matter how many news reporters got *Liberal* arts educations based on liberal education programs and/or their parents' union jobs: the owners make their desires clear and such is the main driving force behind imbalanced news coverage.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 20, 2012 @ 8:22 am

I agree. What a waste of taxpayer money! And, that a judge decided to WAIT until the City process had played out, to rule on whether the City Charter's official misconduct clause banning “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers,” is unconstitutionally vague? Putz. This clause is unconstitutionally vague ... especially considering San Francisco's community cultures.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:03 am

Totally agree with you. It really shows how corrupt even the judicial system is here. We hardly ever see or hear about it but in this case it really, really shows. Why bother even voting for a judge. They're always unopposed. Just let anyone fill out an application and sit on the bench then. There is no justice on these justices.

Posted by MistOfTheCity on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

ITA!!! (SFBG should include a "like" button so we don't have to reply to everything we like but can just do one click!)

Posted by Terrrie Frye on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 1:58 pm
Posted by Troll II on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

Underwhelming, you mean, especially when you consider who appointed the tools on the EC. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion what their votes would be. The only surprise was Ben Hur, and I must say he was absolutely stellar throughout the proceedings. Make that one courageous man with a conscience and four cowardly sock puppets of Ed Lee.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

>"The Ethics Commission today unanimously rejected most of Mayor Ed Lee’s official misconduct charges against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi"

Yup. In related news Buster Posey and Matt Cain were NOT suspended for 50 games yesterday.

Posted by Troll on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 10:04 pm

Who appointed these clowns anyway? Oh wait... majority of the commission is appointed by Ed Lee, George Gascon, and Dennis Herrera. The same three people leading this coup. Judge, jury, and executioner.

Why are we even pretending this process has any legitimacy?

If this kind of thing were happening in Iran, we'd be denouncing it as the absurd sham that it is. But here, pundits are discussing it as some sort of legitimate process. WTF???

Posted by Greg on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 10:35 pm

Their verdict is fair, balanced and in line with what 3/4 of SF'ers think. The fact that Ross is a leftie is the only factor you take into account.

Ross stated on video: "I committed an act of violence against my wife". That's it, right there. No "my wife pulled away, thereby bruising herself" that some have insulted us with here.

No, our sheriff admits being violent to his wife. End of story.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

And yes, I'd be praising them, because they'd be showing remarkable courage by bucking the guys who appointed them, probably chopping off their ladder-climbing careers in mid-stream, and demonstrating distinctly un-hacklike conduct. It would be as if one of Stalin's secret 3-man military tribunals actually found someone *not* guilty for a change. It would be praisworthy precisely because it would never happen.

As it is, they demonstrated that they're just regular apparatchiks doing exactly what they're told to do.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 11:37 pm

If the EC had found for Ross, they'd be "great".

But the EC find for Lee, so they are "crap".

Why not just say "I love Ross" and leave it at that? Because your "analysis" really goes no further than that.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

It's always been crap. If the flunkies staffing the kangaroo court that is the ethics commission had come up with a non-crap-like ruling, well then they'd be something other than what they are -machine hacks. It's a what-if scenario of an alternate reality that neither exists nor is even possible. So it's pointless to speculate because right from the start there could only have been one outcome.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 12:24 am

That pretty much sums up every leftie I've ever met. It's all back to that "giant right-wing conspiracy" thing again huh?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 12:29 am

But if you care to respond to what I actually said, rather than your own paraphrased version of what you wish I said, then maybe we can have a productive discussion.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 12:42 am

60% of voters voted for Lee, although his approval rating is currently in the 70's.

76% of SF voters polled support Lee in firing Ross.

80% of the EC think Ross should not serve.

See a pattern there?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 1:38 am