Mirkarimi guilty of misconduct, no final recommendation to supes

August 17, 2012 1:21:46 AM PDT
The San Francisco Ethics Commission voted 4-1 Thursday evening that suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is guilty of official misconduct. The commission did not make a formal recommendation to the Board of Supervisors as to whether Mirkarimi should be able to keep his job. They will likely meet in September to review their findings and put together a summary for the board.

Though the meeting began at 9 a.m., the commissioners did not begin deliberations until about 3:30 pm. They talked about how carefully they need to go over the case, because what they decide will impact future city leaders.

This situation has been ongoing since January, when Mirkarimi was charged with domestic violence for bruising his wife's arm. Mayor Ed Lee suspended him without pay in March, accusing him of official misconduct.

Mirkarimi walked into Thursday's final session to the cheers of supporters with his wife, Eliana Lopez, and mother, Nancy Kolman-Ventrone, by his side. Lopez flew in from Venezuela to support her husband while Kolman-Ventrone traveled from Rhode Island, where she's a member of that state's human rights commission.

"This has nothing to do with who my son is," Kolman-Ventrone said. "I can tell you that Ross has always been raised to be mannerly. He's always been raised to be respectful to women. And this is just completely out of character."

Commenting on the impact the proceedings have had on his family, Mirkarimi noted, "The process was cruel in the way that it kept us apart for seven months. It's been backbreaking every step of the way. But we've tried to endure every step of the way. I could only hope that, um, the real facts come out. And that a just and fair process is applied. And, you know, it's to be continued."

At the beginning of the day, an attorney for the city was ready to deliver a 40 minute long closing argument spelling out why Mirkarimi should be fired, but ethics commissioner Paul Renne quickly interrupted with questions about the commission's power and about the evidence, "How can an act of domestic violence be transferred into saying that is a misconduct in relation to his office," Renne asked.

The defense also faced some heat from Renne, who scolded Mirkarimi's attorneys for what they wrote in legal briefs, "You didn't do your client any favor by starting off your brief by saying, 'the end of an unnecessary protracted dog and pony show.' Is that what you consider these proceedings? A dog and pony show? Is that what you consider these proceedings to be," said Renne.

Mirkarimi's attorney answered, "Um, respectfully commissioner, no. absolutely not."

The five-member panel has heard weeks of testimony and evidence during a trial-like proceeding to determine Mirkarimi's fitness for office.

The Ethics Commission stopped short of recommending Mirkarimi be removed from office. Instead, they will hold another meeting to create a written recommendation and summary of their findings for the Board of Supervisors, which will ultimately decide the sheriff's fate.

Lopez's attorney, Paula Canny, says the city failed to meet its burden of proof because the commission only sustained two of seven charges.

"Under the city charter then, since they didn't make their burden, they can't remove him from office, so that's the legal version of he just got screwed," Canny said.

Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith disagrees.

"That's not a correct interpretation of the law; it's akin to when the district attorney might charge three charges and then there's a plea to one of them, there's still a conviction," Keith said. "If nine or more members of the board vote to sustain the charges, then removal is the necessary result."

The final day of the hearing prompted competing noontime rallies Thursday outside City Hall, where the commission conducted its hearing.

Mirkarimi supporters sent an email for their rally, calling on sheriff proponents to "let the Ethics Commission know exactly how you feel about the mayor's unprecedented attempt to usurp the will of the people in order to consolidate his power."

At the same time and place, supporters of domestic violence victims planned their own rally to urge commissioners to recommend removal.

Three organizations, La Casa de las Madres, Domestic Violence Consortium and Futures Without Violence, urged commissioners in a statement Wednesday "to stay focused on the fact that Mirkarimi pled guilty to abusing his wife and as a result is not fit to serve as Sheriff."

Lee issued a statement after the hearing saying, "I am pleased that the members of the Ethics Commission, following a careful review of the evidence, and in the face of a sustained campaign to distract and misdirect them from the facts, agreed with me that Ross Mirkarimi's actions constitute official misconduct and fall below the ethical conduct we expect of the sheriff, our top law enforcement officer."

He continued, "It is now up to the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to carefully weigh the evidence before them and consider the facts around Ross Mirkarimi's official misconduct. The members of the Ethics Commission have sent a powerful message and strong case to the Board of Supervisors for why Ross Mirkarimi is unfit to serve the people of San Francisco as Sheriff."

Amy Hollyfield, Carolyn Tyler and Ama Daetz contributed to this report