Ethics Commission hearing begins for Mirkarimi

(KGO)
June 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The San Francisco Ethics Commission hearing for suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi began at 5 p.m. Tuesday and he was there to defend himself. The hearing will focus on a domestic abuse incident which left bruises on Mirkarimi's wife's arm.

Mirkarimi is scheduled to testify on June 28 and Lee is set to take the stand the very next day. It is still not known if his wife, Eliana Lopez, will provide testimony in person or via Skype from Venezuela.

One thing the mayor's side is trying to get into evidence is the New Year's Day cellphone video taken by neighbor Ivory Madison. Mirkarimi's wife is seen and heard describing a bruise inflicted by her husband. He says he was trying to calm her down during a verbal fight.

The Ethics Commission held off on making a decision on if the video will be used as evidence. However, lawyers fought over a written statement from Madison, which came under attack by one member of the commission.

"Clearly hearsay, clearly appear to have solely the purpose of sort of poisoning the well in this hearing," said Paul Renne, an Ethics Commission member.

The city is also trying to admit testimony from Mirkarimi's ex-girlfriend.

"That makes her testimony relevant because that shows that this is occurring within domestic violence... I guess within basically a batterer mentality because there is a batterer mentality," said Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith.

The small hearing room contained a number of supporters including former Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver who said, "I think that the courts have been really wrong in breaking up this family."

Lopez is expected to provide written testimony within a week or so. The commission held off on issuing a subpoena for Madison while lawyers go back and forth on objections to her written testimony.

Before the hearing began, Mirkarimi spoke a few words to the media and accused the city of throwing everything they have at him and piling on. He said at the hearing he hopes to prove he can still be the kind of sheriff people expected when they elected him.

Tuesday morning a judge signed off on the progress Mirkarimi is making on fulfilling the requirements of his probation. That was likely the easiest part of his day as the suspended sheriff fights to regain the job he lost after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with abusing Lopez.

"Our belief all along has been that I want to take responsibility and I've taken responsibility for what's occurred with my wife and I. That does not disqualify me from being sheriff, not in the eyes of the federal, state or even municipal law or code, whatsoever," said Mirkarimi. That will be his argument before the Ethics Commission which heard opening statements Tuesday night. "I'm anticipating [to testify] and will be prepared accordingly," said Mirkarimi.

It was back on January 13th, just days after being sworn into office, that Mirkarimi was arrested for bruising his wife's arm. This past weekend, Madison submitted documents to the ethics panel saying Lopez told her Mirkarimi slammed her against a wall. He calls that evolving fiction.

"It looks like it's more of a piling on to just smear," said Mirkarimi.

The mayor said he is not using smear tactics. He'll testify next week and the city is ready to lay out its case.

"We have law enforcement professionals who'll speak to how this degrades the office of the sheriff," said Mayor Ed Lee. And he used the toughest term yet to describe the sheriff's domestic violence incident. He said, "As one of the top law enforcement officials for the city, he ought not to have engaged in the beating of his wife. That's what it comes down to."

The last Ethics Commission hearing lasted nearly seven hours as the commissioners tried to figure out protocol and took public testimony at that point. Tuesday night feels like opening night, getting down to the nitty-gritty.

One question that has been swirling is whether Mirkarimi can travel abroad to Venezuela to see his son Theo. Mirkarimi's wife took the boy there to be with her family. That is a question headed to another court.

Mirkarimi said earlier he does not like the tone of the issue leading up to the hearing. He said, "Mayor Lee is throwing whatever they can against the wall, piling on an immense amount of smear, in which we are seeing in the declarations themselves, and we'll do everything we can to address it and clarify it, in a process where the rules are being invented as we go along."

The commission will give its findings to the Board of Supervisors who will make the final decision. It will take nine of the 11 supervisors voting against Mirkarimi to remove him from office.


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