Mirkarimi's lawyer slams city for "sleazy tactic"

June 7, 2012 8:18:25 PM PDT
Ross Mirkarimi's attorney is going on the offense -- launching a new attack against the critics of San Francisco's suspended sheriff. City Attorney Dennis Herrera is facing harsh criticism for using a video of Mirkarimi's wife -- a domestic violence victim -- as a bargaining chip. It's an accusation Herrera denies.

One of Mirkarimi's lawyers says Herrera personally offered to keep the video confidential as long as he resigned as sheriff. That move is being called "underhanded," "unethical," and even "extortion."

Mirkarimi's wife Eliana Lopez never wanted the video showing a bruise she got from her husband to go public. She told the ABC7 News I-Team three weeks ago in her hometown of Caracas, Venezuela that she was concerned mostly about the effect on her son, Theo, if he looked it up on the Internet when he's older.

"Is it really right to release the video, don't think about my son or my career, my life, my family," Lopez asked.

Her lawyer even requested a protective order from the Ethics Commission prohibiting public dissemination of the video. But, two days later, before the commission could rule on the request, Herrera released the video anyway.

"It invaded my clients privacy rights," Lopez's attorney Paula Canny said.

Canny Thursday filed a complaint against Herrera and Mayor Ed Lee for ethics violations, saying the release of the video could amount to "official misconduct."

The I-Team spoke with the mayor after a City Hall event Thursday afternoon.

Dan Noyes: "Late today, a complaint's been filed against you, accusing you of official misconduct for releasing the video. It's been filed with the Ethics Commission. Do you have a comment about that?"

Mayor Ed Lee: "Well, again, I think the release of the video was done through the court process, it wasn't done by our office, we don't have jurisdiction."

Dan Noyes: "It was your lawyer who released it. The city attorney released it."

Mayor Ed Lee: "I think it was released by court order."

"It wasn't released by court order, that's absolutely not true," Canny said. "The mayor needs to talk to his attorney."

It was Herrera who petitioned the criminal court judge for the video so it could be included in the Ethics Commission hearings.

Dan Noyes: "Why release something against the wishes of the victim?"

Dennis Herrera: "If you look at it, Dan, I don't have that latitude to selectively decide when I abide by the Sunshine Ordinance or I don't."

Herrera says he had to release the video, because several media outlets -- including the I-Team -- had requested it.

But, Mirkarimi's lawyers say before he released the video, the city attorney tried to use it as a bargaining chip.

"That was completely unethical and kind of unprecedented in its ruthlessness and its sleaze value; it was really, a low, cheap and sleazy thing to do," Mirkarimi's attorney David Waggoner said.

Waggoner says, over the course of several conversations, Herrera made an offer: If Mirkarimi resigned, he would receive an undetermined amount of back pay, health benefits, and Herrera would keep the video confidential.

Dan Noyes: "They said it was like a gun to their heads, 'Either you resign or I'll release this video.'"

Dennis Herrera: "No, nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Herrera claims negotiations never took place, but confirmed he called Mirkarimi's lawyer to talk about settling the ethics commission case.

Dan Noyes: "Did the city attorney tell you what he was offering?"

Mayor Ed Lee: "No, no, there's, as far as I know, I'm not aware of any offerings. The only thing that we've been discussing is the approach towards the hearings we expect to have."

There is a similar case from 1999 -- a superior court judge who also pleaded down his domestic violence case and was allowed to keep his job.


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