Ethics panel to vote on San Francisco sheriff's fate

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 16, 2012 1:40 PM
Ethics panel to vote on San Francisco sheriff's fate

By Emmett Berg

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A city ethics panel was due to vote on Thursday after a final public hearing on whether embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi should permanently lose his job following his conviction in a spousal-abuse case.

The recommendation of the five-member ethics commission will then go to the 11-seat Board of Supervisors, which will decide the fate of the city's top elected lawman.

Mayor Ed Lee placed Mirkarimi on leave without pay and initiated misconduct proceedings to remove him from office in March after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawfully restraining his wife, Venezuelan soap opera actress Eliana Lopez.

The saga involving Mirkarimi, a former member of the Board of Supervisors and co-founder of California's Green Party, has rocked San Francisco's political establishment and dominated local media coverage for months.

Mirkarimi, who was sentenced to a day in jail and three years of probation, has filed suit seeking reinstatement to his post and his salary. He claims he cannot be removed for official misconduct because the offense in question occurred more than a week before he took office as sheriff.

The case against Mirkarimi grew out of a New Year's Eve quarrel with his wife that the couple carried on in front of their young son, Theo, over her plans to take the boy to her home country.

In a cell-phone video shot by a neighbor the next day, Lopez tearfully claimed that her husband had grabbed her arm with such force that he left it black and blue. She said it was the second time he had bruised her.

Lopez later refused to testify against her husband and sought to bar the video from being introduced as evidence against him. On Thursday, the couple entered the packed hearing room together, holding hands and smiling to cheering supporters.

After two months of proceedings on the matter, the commission is to hear final arguments by lawyers for both sides in the case and then take comments from members of the public before voting on its recommendation.

Mirkarimi was charged on January 13, five days after being sworn in as sheriff, with misdemeanor counts of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness.

His deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a single, lesser charge was structured to allow Mirkarimi to keep his badge and his gun. But the mayor decided Mirkarimi's conduct amounted to a violation of the public trust and his role as a law enforcement officer.

In addition to citing Mirkarimi's conviction, the mayor's complaint against the sheriff cites allegations that he sought to impede the original police investigation by trying to dissuade witnesses from coming forward.

Mirkarimi denies this, and his lawyers argue that the mayor overstepped his authority by seeking Mirkarimi's removal through a public ethics investigation.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Dan Grebler)