Last gasp ends the sordid Mirkarimi saga

Pub date March 18, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

A San Francisco judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez, which is likely to be the last step in an ugly and protracted political, legal, and administrative battle stemming from Mirkarimi grabbing Lopez’s arm during an argument on Dec. 31, 2011.

The couple’s neighbors, attorney Abraham Mertens and his wife, Ivory Madison, reported the grabbing incident to police over the objections of Lopez, who had sought advice from Madison and allowed her to film a short but emotional video displaying a bruise on her arm, which became the main evidence against Mirkarimi.

That exploded into a high-profile drama in which Mirkarimi was vilified by the media, charged with domestic violence and witness dissuasion, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment, suspended without pay for six months by Mayor Ed Lee, and finally reinstated to office by the Board of Supervisors in October.

Along the way, the two couples – who are still neighbors, despite Mirkarimi’s efforts to sell his house and move – became increasingly bitter public rivals. Lopez consistently denied being abused and implied to reporters that Mertens and Madison had political motives for breaking her confidence and reporting the incident to police. Mertens and Madison maintained that Mirkarimi tried to dissuade their cooperation with police – an allegation that the long investigation failed to substantiate – and blasted Mirkarimi and Lopez in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed.

Other than that, Madison and Mertens refused to talk to the press as the saga unfolded – a stance they maintained today, with a man who answered the phone at the Red Room website business they run immediately telling us, “They’re not interested in talking.”

But Madison, who went to law school before becoming a fantasy writer, did let loose in June when she submitted a wild, incredible 22-page declaration to the Ethics Commission as part of the city’s effort to permanently remove Mirkarimi on official misconduct charges, purporting to describe the tyrannical way the Mirkarimi ran the household, as Madison claimed she was told by Lopez (which she disputes).

The commission criticized and gutted the declaration, finding that it was prejudicial and contained little usable evidence. Commissioner Paul Renne even dressed down the deputy city attorneys for submitting it, calling it “clearly hearsay, clearly having the intention of poisoning the well of this hearing,” causing Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith to apologize and explain they had little to do with the declaration because Madison had hired a private attorney who helped her prepare it.

The couple and their attorney have threatened to sue Mirkarimi and Lopez for more than a year, and they finally filed the defamation case in January, and it has now been quickly dismissed. Domestic violence advocates and allies of Mayor Lee also threatened a recall election against Mirkarimi, but that also seemed to wither late last year – meaning this is probably the last we’ll hear about this case, at least until Mirkarimi runs for reelection in two years, if he decides to do so.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit’s dismissal, Mirkarimi told the Guardian, “My family and I are very happy and have moved forward, and I hope they are too.” His attorney, David Waggoner, told us, “Hopefully, the dismissal represents the end of what has been a long and painful experience for everyone involved.”