Debra J. Saunders

What is official misconduct? That was the matter before the San Francisco Ethics Commission on Thursday. What is political misconduct in San Francisco? The standard constantly evolves.    

Ross Mirkarimi, the city's newly elected but not yet sworn-in sheriff, got in an argument with his wife on Dec. 31. He bruised her arm. She told a friend and made a videotape of the bruise, in case the couple ended up in a custody battle over their young son. The friend told police. The full weight of San Francisco power swooped down on Mirkarimi. Wife Eliana Lopez's protestations that her husband did not abuse her fell on deaf ears. District Attorney George Gascon charged Mirkarimi with three charges involving domestic battery -- for one bruised arm.     

In hopes of putting the matter behind him, Mirkarimi agreed to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor false imprisonment. The sentence included three years of probation as well as mandatory counseling.    

As domestic violence advocates clamored for a resignation, Mayor Ed Lee asked Mirkarimi to quit. Mirkarimi refused. Lee then charged the sheriff with official misconduct and sent the matter to the ethics commission, which will forward its recommendation to the board of supervisors.     

Months of deliberations, public hearings and mountains of legal paperwork came to a close on Thursday night. Four of the 5 commissioners found that Mirkarimi had committed "official misconduct." Commissioner Paul Renne explained, "voters would be shocked if we said a public official who had pleaded guilty to false imprisonment was not guilty of official misconduct."      

Chairman Benedict Y. Hur -- yes, Ben Hur -- voted against the mayor. It was a lonely moment and a profile in courage, for which Hur should be hailed whenever he enters one of the city's many fine eating establishments.     

Hur understood that the issue is not as simple as Renne suggested. The city charter could stipulate that a conviction represents official misconduct, but it doesn't -- on purpose. Lee himself testified that a criminal conviction of a public official by itself does not constitute official misconduct. Hizzoner prefers to consider such cases on a "case-by-case basis."     

Translation: If one of Lee's City Hall pals is caught in the act, he wants to be able to spare him or her the Mirkarimi treatment.       

Debra J. Saunders

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