Qualifying Mirakarimi’s jury

Pub date September 25, 2012

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors formally received the official misconduct case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi Sept. 18, starting the clock on the 30-day deadline that the City Charter provides for the board to take action. Board President David Chiu announced a special meeting to consider the case on Oct. 9 at 2pm. The schedule the board had previous agreed to: a 10-minute presentation by the Ethics Commission, 20 minutes by representatives of Mayor Ed Lee (who brought the case), 20 minutes by Mirkarimi’s side, a five-minute rebuttal by Lee, public comment (which could last for hours), and then deliberation by supervisors.

The drama-before-the-drama will involve what in court would be called jury selection — Mirkarimi’s lawyers want to see if any supervisors should be disqualified from voting.

It’s a critical point: It would take at least nine of the 11 supervisors to remove the sheriff, and that number doesn’t’ change if some are ineligible to vote. So every recusal is, in effect, a vote to save Mirkarimi’s job.

And it’s an open question whether some supervisors should recuse themselves. They’re supposed to be unbiased jurors, and if any of them have discussed the case with the mayor in advance, they might be forced to sit this one out.

Mayor Ed Lee was asked on the witness stand whether he spoke with any supervisors about removing Mirkarimi, and he denied it. But Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker said her longtime friend and political ally Sup. Christina Olague told her Lee had sought her input on the decision. Confronted by journalists, Olague denied the charge but said, “I may have to recuse myself from voting on this.”

Another possible recusal from the vote would be Sup. Eric Mar, who just happened to be called as a juror in Mirkarimi’s criminal case — and thus could have been exposed to prejudicial evidence — before those charges were settled with a plea bargain. There have also been rumors that Board President David Chiu spoke with Lee about Mirkarimi at some point.

Last month, Mirkarimi lawyer David Waggoner told the board that he wanted each supervisor to declare whether he or she has spoken with anyone about Mirkarimi, but the legal team is proceeding cautiously, wary of offending the supervisors who will now decide the fate of their former colleague.

“We’re going to respectfully ask each member of the board to state under oath who they’ve talked to about the case,” Waggoner told us.

Normally, jurors would be extensively questioned during the voir dire process, and those who had served on an elected body with a defendant for years would almost certainly be removed from the jury pool, which seems to have been the case with Mar’s disqualification on the criminal case. But that’s just one more example of how this unprecedented process is anything but normal, with city officials basically making up the rules as they go along.