Eliana Lopez

Eliana Lopez is a victim, but of whom?


It’s been an eventful visit to San Francisco this week for Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, who spent the last two evenings on the witness stand testifying before the Ethics Commission as it considers removing her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, from office for official misconduct for grabbing her arm on Dec. 31. And then today in court, she helped persuade Judge Garrett Wong to lift the stay-away order that has barred the couple from having any contact with each other since January, allowing this battle-weary couple to finally share an much-needed embrace.

Lopez didn’t want any of this – not the police and prosecutors going after her husband and getting an order to keep her family apart, not Mayor Ed Lee suspending Mirkarimi and taking away the salary the family needed now more than ever (compounding his failure to ask Lopez what really happened by refusing to allow the city to pay for her plane fare back from Venezuela, where she’s been staying with family and looking for acting jobs, to testify in his proceedings), not the hypocritical statements of concern that she’s been victimized, made by people who she considers to be the real abusers of her and her family.

Her perspective on this whole sordid affair became crystal clear while spending more than three hours on the stand being grilled by Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith and the commissioners, where she said that she’s never been scared of Mirkarimi but that San Francisco has become a scary place to her after being betrayed and victimized by the people entrusted to help her.

“At this point, I think he’s safer in Venezuela than San Francisco,” Lopez said of her three-year-old son when Keith condescendingly asked about how he’s doing in her home country. Keith’s belittling tone toward this supposed crime victim prompted Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp to tell reporters, “The questioning of Ms. Lopez, so far, I think is just offensive.”

Clearly, some of Lopez’s decisions helped create this mess. She said on the stand that she regrets telling her neighbors Callie Williams and Ivory Madison what happened on Dec. 31, even if she believes they should have kept her confidence as they promised. And there are good legal reasons why domestic violence victims shouldn’t be able to stop the prosecutions of their abusers, who they may still be scared to offend.

But none of that excuses the complete disregard for Lopez, her perspective, and her interests that has been shown by San Francisco’s law enforcement, political, and domestic violence advocacy communities – a point that Mirkarimi supporters have repeatedly made throughout the proceedings, emphasizing that they believe and support Lopez.

“I didn’t expect that my lawyer could call the police on her own,” Lopez said of Madison, whom she said had represented herself as a legal adviser who was helping her create evidence for a child custody case if her marital problems ended in divorce. “I thought that was my decision.”

Once Madison took a more aggressive posture in urging Lopez to go the police, including “calling Ross’s political enemies” to help her bring him down, Lopez testified, “I realized that I couldn’t trust her.” But it was too late. As soon as Lopez clearly said that she didn’t want police involvement, that was when Madison called them.

“I told her, ‘you don’t have my permission to do this. I trusted you,’” Lopez said she told Madison after being told the police were on the way, sending Lopez into a panic. “When I left Ivory Madison’s house, I was so shaking I couldn’t find my car…I was feeling betrayed and I was so angry.”

Toward the end of her testimony, she said, “After Ivory Madison called the police, I felt betrayed, I felt like I had betrayed Ross.”

Anyone who knows Lopez or watched her on the stand understands that this is a strong woman who is used to taking care of herself, not a shattered domestic violence victim incapable of acting on her own behalf.

“I said we have to think, Ross, we have to do something,” Lopez testified, explaining her reaction to the police involvement and her text message to “use your power” to do something, which Mirkarimi replied to by saying there was nothing he could do at that point, despite unproven accusations that he tried to dissuade witnesses and thwart the investigation. “It was me who was pushing him.”

Even after the controversy went public and threatened his career, Lopez said it her who told him not to resign and to fight for his job. “I told him, ‘you won the election, stay strong, we can win this,” she testified.

Nobody wants to minimize domestic violence, but let’s keep some perspective on what happened here. Lee may or may not really believe that Mirkarimi “beats his wife,” as he told reporters in justifying his overreaction, but the evidence that has emerged doesn’t dispute the consistent contention by Mirkarimi and Lopez that he grabbed her arm one time, for one moment, and that was the full extend of the abuse.

“I bruise really easily,” Lopez testified. “Just Theo playing with me, I get bruised.”

Some people do. And while that doesn’t excuse what Mirkarimi did – getting physical with a partner is never okay, as he said on the stand, accepting his fate – it does indicate that perhaps Mirkarimi’s critics have lost their perspective, sense of proportion, and realization that domestic violence laws are supposed to be about helping and protecting the victim.

Does anyone even want to try to make an argument that’s what’s happened in this case?

Lopez steals the show as the city’s case against Mirkarimi falters


This afternoon’s must-watch television is on the city’s SFGTV starting at 5pm when Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez returns to the witness stand as the Ethics Commission considers Mayor Ed Lee’s effort to remove her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, from office on official misconduct charges. Because after last night’s hearings, the city’s case has been severely weakened, making the standoff between a charming Lopez and flailing Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith even more pivotal.

For those with the patience and stomach to sit through these sordid and often tedious hearings – including a press gallery that has packed each hearing – there is a growing sense that the city is in trouble and getting desperate, largely because Keith and Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser have been unable to support their speculative central charges, nonetheless grinding away at them, thus highlighting that lack of support.

That seemed especially true last night during Kaiser’s disastrous cross-examination of Mirkarimi campaign manager Linnette Peralta Haynes, a figure who was central to the city’s allegation that Mirkarimi dissuaded witnesses and sought to thwart a police investigation into a Dec. 31 incident in which he grabbed Lopez’s arm and left a bruise.

Haynes had communicated with Lopez and Mirkarimi via phone and text message throughout the day on Jan. 4, when neighbor and Lopez confidante Ivory Madison reported the incident to police, even briefly speaking to Madison that day when Lopez suddenly handed the phone to her. The city’s apparent theory was that Haynes acted as Mirkarimi’s agent in trying to cover up the incident and do damage control, including coaching Lopez on what to say to Madison and another neighbor, Callie Williams, as Lopez desperately tried to prevent the situation from spinning out of control.

But the city has never had any evidence to support its theory, and this was its first chance to question Haynes, who had been at the end of a high-risk pregnancy and resisted cooperating with the investigation, which seemed to only feed the city’s conviction that she had incriminating information that Kaiser would be able to pry loose on the witness stand.

Yet that didn’t happen, despite Kaiser and commissioners grilling Haynes for more than three hours, twice as long as she had told the commission that she would need. Whereas Haynes seemed calm and consistent as she described giving Lopez emotional support and probing to ensure that she wasn’t in danger, Kaiser fumbled through technical difficulties and maintained an accusatory and belittling tone even as the answers she was receiving seemed to destroy her line of questioning.

“I think the house of cards that mayor has been trying to establish about witness dissuasion was demolished by Linnette Peralta Haynes, who was absolutely credible,” Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp told reporters after the hearing.

But the star of last night’s show was Lopez, who had just returned from Venezuela, where she and her son have been staying with family since March because Lee stripped Mirkarimi of his salary and because the couple is barred from seeing one another by a restraining order they didn’t seek, but which has been extended by these proceedings.

Keith’s first line of questioning tried to use that separation against them, implying that Lopez was supporting Mirkarimi – which she has done since the beginning, claiming that he’s not abusive and that they are working on their problems – only so that he would continue to sign off in family court on his son remaining in Venezuela.

“Ms. Lopez has a thriving life in Venezuela and she wouldn’t want to do anything to upset the sheriff,” Keith proffered to a skeptical commission to justify his line of questioning about Lopez, who begins a 20-day film shoot on Monday.

But he seemed to score few points in that realm as Lopez – who was alternately resolute and playfully charming, sparking some of the only moments of levity and laughter during hearings that have dragged on for months – laid the blame for her family plight on Madison (“my nutty neighbor,” she Lopez once described her) and the investigators and prosecutors that she believes have misinterpreted her words and intentions and blown the incident out of proportion.

Keith also tried to find support for another key allegation against Mirkarimi – that he claimed to be a “powerful man” who could use his office to keep custody of their son in the event of a divorce – but he also seemed to hit a brick wall there. Based on statements by Madison – most of whose hyperbolic and unsupported written testimony has been disallowed by the commission – Keith tried to tie Lopez’s custody concerns to his status as sheriff, driving at that point with many questions.

But Lopez said her concern was that California family courts would favor Mirkarimi simply because he’s an American and she’s from a country that has bad relations with the US. “In this country, I think he’s in a better position than me,” she said. After he again tried to make it about his official position, she said, “As a sheriff, no; as an American, yes.”

It was that concern over custody that prompted Lopez to consult with Madison and make a tearful video of the bruise on her arm, something Lopez said Madison coached her through and promised would remain confidential, something Lopez believed because Madison had attended law school and presented herself as a lawyer.

When Keith confronted Lopez with a prior written statement that she was worried about Mirkarimi’s power as “an American and politician,” Lopez said that it was Madison who planted that idea in her head, not Mirkarimi. “After our conversation, she made me feel even more scared. She said it was an all boys network and they would protect themselves so you need evidence,” Lopez said.

But she denied the claim by the city and Madison that it was Mirkarimi who sought to improperly use his position, a key element of removing him for official misconduct. Lopez said her conclusions about Mirkarimi’s advantages in a potential custody battle were the result of conversation that happened much earlier.

“That conversation happened in March 2011. He wasn’t even thinking about running for sheriff at that point,” she said, denying that Mirkarimi ever raised his official position in their custody conversations and claiming the concerns about his power were her own. “He never said that, that was my conclusion of our conversations. He never said, ‘I am a powerful man.’”

Because the interrogation of Haynes dragged on so long, it was nearly 9pm when Lopez took the stand, and she only got through about 40 minutes of testimony before the hearing adjourned. Keith estimated that she would be on the stand for about two and a half hours – and so far, the city’s attorneys have underestimated how long they would question each witness – so there’s probably much more to come this afternoon.

What if the mayor lied?


EDITORIAL The case Mayor Ed Lee is presenting to the Ethics Commission is no longer about whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarmi injured his wife, Eliana Lopez, or whether his actions were atrocious and unacceptable. Those facts are not in dispute — although Mirkarimi pled guilty to a less-serious misdemeanor, he has not denied that he grabbed Lopez’s arm and squeezed hard enough to leave a bruise. Even his strongest defenders aren’t condoning that or dismissing the seriousness of this incident of domestic violence.

Much of the evidence Lee has presented goes to different issues — for example, the allegation (so far, without any proof) that Mirkarimi sought to dissuade witnesses from coming forward .

And formally, the question Lee is raising is a larger one: Did Mirkarimi’s action rise to the level of official misconduct — or, in the words of Lee’s testimony, did his conduct “fall below the standard of decency, good faith, and right action that is impliedly required of all public officials?”

Now Lee is facing that same question. It’s something the commission needs to address — not only because it goes to the heart of this particular case but because the public has a right to know if the mayor of San Francisco lied under oath on the witness stand.

In fact, now that two credible witnesses — one a city commissioner, the other a former supervisor — have made public statements that indicate Lee was dishonest in his testimony, the District Attorney’s Office should open an investigation. Perjury is a felony crime — and while it’s hard to prove, there are critical facts that are missing. The only witnesses who have direct (non hearsay) corroboration have been unwilling to discuss the matter in detail, and only the DA and Ethics have the ability to issue subpoenas and ask them the key questions under oath.

Lee testified that he hadn’t discussed the case or his deliberations over filing charges with any member of the Board of Supervisors. But Building Inspection Commission member Debra Walker told reporters that her friend and ally, Sup. Christina Olague, had recounted having a conversation with the mayor on that topic right before the charges were filed. Olague denies that, but has declined further comment.

Then Lee testified that he never offered, or authorized anyone in his office to offer, a job to Mirkarimi in exchange for his resignation. Former Sup. Aaron Peskin says Lee ally Walter Wong approached him and asked him to convey exactly such an offer to the sheriff on behalf of the mayor. Peskin recalls the exact date, time and place of his meeting with Wong, and he mentioned the offer to Guardian reporters long before this trial began. Wong has declined to speak to reporters.

So at the very least, there are grounds for the commission members to allow Mirkarimi’s lawyers to question Olague and Wong — and if either of them contradicts the mayor’s sworn statement, it would raise serious doubts about Lee’s credibility. And that’s central to the official misconduct case: Mirkarimi’s lawyers argue that the sheriff was never given due process and that the mayor never tried to learn Mirkarimi’s side of the story. The mayor says Mirkarimi refused to tell that story. The commission vote could hinge on that dispute — and if Lee lied about other parts of his testimony, it would be fair to question everything he said. And if Lee can’t hold himself to the standards of decency and good faith, the voters need to know that.

And whatever the outcome, it’s clearly time for the supervisors to look at the City Charter section on official misconduct. Because the current law allows the mayor to suspend and charge any elected official in the city, entirely on his or her own discretion — but there’s no way (short of a recall election) to charge, impeach, suspend or remove the mayor. It’s an imbalance that gives the chief executive extraordinary powers with little accountability. That’s not good government.

Gascon comments on Lee perjury allegations


Luke Thomas from Fog City Journal showed up at a press conference District Attorney George Gascon was holding on another topic, and threw in a question about the allegations that Mayor Ed Lee lied under oath before the Ethics Commission. Gascon’s comments were, as I would expect, pretty well couched in political-DA language, but the man who initially filed the domestic violence charges that set off this legal episode came down clearly on the side of having Ethics investigate further:

Luke sent me a transcript of Gascon’s full remarks, to wit:

“I think that the first thing that we have to do is we have to allow the Ethics Commission to continue what they’re doing. This is an ongoing hearing by the Ethics Commission. The voters of San Francisco, through the Charter, gave the Ethics Commission a tremendous amount of power — they wanted a very robust process. The Ethics Commission has the ability to call witnesses and put witnesses under sworn testimony and I think it is appropriate for the Ethics Commission to continue to inquire into this. Once they have completed the process, we will evaluate and, if appropriate, we will move accordingly. If the evidence surfaces that we have sworn testimony to indicate that perjury has taken place then we will certainly evaluate whether that will be appropriate to prosecute. At this point, we need to let the Ethics Commission do its work.”

I got in touch with Gascon’s press person, Stephanie Ong Stillman, and she confirmed that the DA thinks right now Ethics ought to be handling this:

“We don’t want to interfere with the Ethics Commission’s ongoing process.
All we know is what’s being reported in the newspapers.  These allegations
arose in the context of an ongoing Ethics Commission hearing, therefore the
Ethics Commission is the most appropriate body to look into this matter.”

Doesn’t sound like Gascon is eager to launch his own inquiry. But he’s at least interested in hearing what the key witnesess have to say — and he seems to agree that they should be placed under oath.

In fact, Gascon seems to be saying that he will look to Ethics to conduct the initial investigation — which just puts more pressure on the commissioners to allow Mirkarimi’s lawyers to put Walter Wong and Christina Olague on the stand.

I wonder if Lee is starting to regret setting off this whole spectacle. If he’d just demurred and allowed the voters to weigh in with a recall election, he could have avoided what may be a costly political mistake.

Oh, and by the way: Since the Chron made a huge deal out of Ivory Madison’s sworn statement — much of which was tossed out as inadmissible — it’s worth reading the entire statement of Eliana Lopez, which is posted here.

If Mayor Lee lied


What’s going to happen to Mayor Ed Lee?

That’s the big question after a series of news reports have suggested that the mayor was less-than truthful under oath in his statements to the Ethics Commission. If he actually lied on the stand, that would be considered perjury, which is a felony.

But the reality is that the mayor’s not going to jail. First of all the District Attorney’s Office would have to investigate and file charges — and does anyone really think this DA, George Gascon, is going to subpoena Walter Wong and demand that he talk under oath about his interactions with Lee (who is a close friend)? I think Gascon ought to do it; there’s clear evidence that a crime may have been committed, and the public has a right to know about it, but I suspect that will never happen.
And even if the DA pushed, and Wong told the truth, and the truth contradicted the mayor, would a jury believe Wong over Lee?

It’s really hard to prove perjury. Maybe one of Lee’s staffers talked to Wong and the mayor wasn’t directly involved. Maybe the recollections of the two men have faded in the past few months. Maybe the mayor’s defense would be able to throw up enough chaff that nobody in the courtroom could figure it out.

So it’s not going to be about a criminal case against the mayor. But the revelations of what’s gone down here go far beyond any possible perjury indictment.

For starters, Ross Mirkarimi’s lawyers have every right and responsibility to demand that the Ethics Commission members hear from Debra Walker, Walter Wong, and — I would argue — every member of the Board of Supervisors. Here’s why:

The crux of Mirkarimi’s legal case at Ethics is that the mayor had no grounds to remove him from office — and that Lee never gave Mirkarimi due process or a chance to explain himself. The way the suspended sheriff tells it, the mayor never asked for an explanation of what happened that New Year’s Eve, never tried to talk to Eliana Lopez — never, in short, did any investigation into the incident before deciding the file misconduct charges (except for talking to Ivory Madison).

The way the mayor tells it, Mirkarimi refused to provide an explanation.

That distinction is critical, and the only basis for deciding what happened is for the judges — the commissioners — to use their best information and judgment about who’s telling the truth.

In other words, the mayor’s credibility is central to the entire case.

So if there’s any evidence that Lee lied about his discussions with Walter Wong or about whether he talked to any supervisors, then the commissioners would have the responsibility to consider that when evaluating the rest of his testimony. If you can’t believe everything he said, can you believe anything he said?

Some commissioners may argue that it’s not their business to determine if the mayor perjured himself, and on one level, that’s true — Ed Lee isn’t on trial here. But his credibility either makes or breaks the case. So the panel needs to hear from witnesses who can address that question.

Then there’s the much larger, more disturbing possibility that the mayor sought to influence (or might have been in a position to influence) members of the Board of Supervisors, who will be sitting as the final judges of Mirkarimi’s fate.

There’s a reason that the City Attorney’s Office has advised board members not to talk about the case. They’re sitting in a judicial role, and they can’t legally fulfill that obligation if there’s any indication they’ve already made up their minds. And if the mayor has talked to any of them — and there’s any indication at all that anything he said could be seen as seeking to influence their votes — well, in a courtroom you’d call that jury tampering. It’s a little different in a political forum, but still: Any supervisor who had a conversation with the mayor will be under pressure to recuse himself or herself — and every recusal helps Mirkarimi.

It doesn’t matter how many supervisors are in the room, in the country, recused or otherwise unable to vote — the mayor still needs nine to remove the sheriff. Three recusals and the whole thing collapses.

That’s why all of this is so fascinating and potentially explosive.

Oh,and by the way: When Lee set this process in motion, he should have known that he’d be testifying under oath and that anything he said or did might come out. You’d think he’d have been a little better prepared. 

So what’s going to happen to Ed Lee? Legally, nothing. But he may have done serious damage to his own case.

Perjury allegations against Lee gain more support


San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin has confirmed his role in extending a city job offer from Mayor Ed Lee to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi if Mirkarimi had been willing to resign in March, bolstering allegations that Lee may have committed perjury when testifying under oath before the Ethics Commission on Friday.

But even as more media outlets report the possible perjury (a story we broke first here), which is further complicating the already complicated official misconduct proceedings that Lee brought against Mirkarimi, the Mayor’s Office and key Lee allies have refused to comment on the perjury allegations or the strange circumstances surrounding the alleged bomb threat that temporarily got Lee off the hot seat.

As we reported in this week’s Guardian, Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker said Lee was lying when he said that he hadn’t spoken with any members of the Board of Supervisors before charging Mirkarimi with official misconduct. Walker said Sup. Christina Olague told her she had spoken with Lee about the matter, which Olague now denies.

Lee also responded “absolutely not” when asked by Mirkarimi attorney Shephard Kopp whether he authorized Peskin or development consultant Walter Wong, a close Lee ally, “to convey to Sheriff Mirkarimi if he would stop down, you’d get him another job.”

At press time for this week’s article, Peskin was backpacking in the Sierras and couldn’t be reached, but he has now confirmed to the Guardian that he met with Wong at 11:30am on March 19 – just hours before Lee met with Mirkarimi to say he would be removed from office unless he resigned – at Cafe Trieste.

In that meeting, Peskin said Wong asked him to convey to Mirkarimi an offer from the mayor of a job with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission or the Airport Commission if Mirkarimi would voluntarily resign. Asked whether Wong indicated that he had discussed the offer with the mayor, Peskin told us, “He certainly left me with that impression.”

Mirkarimi refused to accept the offer, insisting on fighting to keep his job, which was one factor in Peskin’s subsequent public statement calling for Mirkarimi to resign. “There were a lot of things that factored into that,” Peskin said of his call for Mirkarimi to step down, although he wouldn’t discuss other factors on the record.

Efforts by both the Guardian and the Examiner to reach Wong have been unsuccessful, and messages to the Mayor’s Press Office on this and related issues also haven’t been answered. But just as Walker has offered to do, Peskin said he’s willing to testify under oath if asked.

“I am prepared, if subpoenaed, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” Peskin told us.

Lee hasn’t had any public events or made any public comments on the matter since the scandal broke on Friday. The other unanswered mystery is why Lee was whisked from the hearing room just 15 minutes into his testimony, shortly after making the statements that Walker alleges amounted to perjury.

As we reported, neither the SFPD nor the Sheriff’s Department ordered the room evacuated, meaning that decision must have been made by someone within the Mayor’s Office. Press Secretary Christine Falvey’s last statement to the Guardian, on July 2, said, “Again, the mayor’s office did not recess the meeting. I still have to refer you to the Police Department which maintains Mayor Lee’s security or the Ethics Commission about the decision to recess the meeting for (I believe) about 90 minutes.”

Yet neither body seems to know who made the call, and follow-up questions asking the Mayor’s Office to disclose any information they have about that decision have gone unanswered. District Attorney George Gascon — whose office would need to pursue the perjury allegations considering the city’s official misconduct rules don’t apply to the mayor — also didn’t return our call asking generally how allegations of this fashion should be handled.

The official misconduct proceeding continue in front of the Ethics Commission on July 18 and 19 when Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, is scheduled to testify. But that has also been complicated by the Mayor’s Office’s refusal to authorize payment for a plane ticket for Lopez to return from her native Venezuela to testify. Mirkarimi and his legal team say they can’t afford to pay for that plane ticket after Lee suspended Mirkarimi without pay.

Under oath



Mayor Ed Lee and suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi each took some lumps on June 29 as they were cross-examined by opposing attorneys in front the Ethics Commission, which is conducting the official misconduct case that Lee brought against Mirkarimi over a Dec. 31 domestic violence incident. But the hearings proved unexpectedly dramatic when the room was suddenly cleared for an undisclosed security threat — following testimony by Lee that a city commissioner alleges included perjury.

The incident raises a number of issues that officials hadn’t yet answered by Guardian press time. Was the security threat real? If so, why wasn’t the room or the rest of City Hall properly secured after the mayor was whisked away? If not, who ordered the room cleared and why?

Undersheriff Paul Miyamoto, who ran against Mirkarimi last year, told the Guardian that the San Francisco Police Department notified his office that a caller claimed to have planted bombs outside of City Hall and on the Golden Gate Bridge. Deputies conducted a search and found nothing, and his office didn’t order the recess of the hearing. “We did not evacuate anyone,” he told us.

Speculation about the incident was heightened during the break when Debra Walker, a Mirkarimi supporter and longtime member of the city’s Building Inspection Commission, told the Guardian that Lee committed perjury when he denied speaking with any members of the Board of Supervisors before filing official misconduct charges. Lee was responding to a direct and pointed question from Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp — one that that Lee’s attorneys had unsuccessfully objected to.

Specifically, Walker said that her longtime friend and political ally Sup. Christina Olague — who Lee appointed to serve the last year of Mirkarimi’s term for the District 5 seat — had told her repeatedly that Lee had asked her advice before filing the charges against Mirkarimi, and that Olague’s advice was that Lee should ask for Mirkarimi’s resignation but drop the matter if he refused.

That allegation, which was first reported on the Guardian’s Politics blog shortly after the commission went into recess (Olague had not yet returned a call from the Guardian asking whether she had spoken to Lee about Mirkarimi), prompted reporters to confront Olague in the hallway outside her supervisorial office, where she tersely denied the allegation and then took refuge behind closed doors.

When the reporters lingered and persisted, waiting for a more complete answer, Olague finally emerged, reiterated her denial, refused to speculate about why her friend Walker would make that claim, and said, “We’re not allowed to discuss this matter with anyone before it comes to the board…I may have to recuse myself from voting on this.”

It was unclear why she thought recusal might be necessary, but if she does disqualify herself from voting on Mirkarimi’s removal later this summer after Ethics completes its investigation and makes its recommendations to the board, that would hurt Lee’s effort to get the nine votes needed to remove Mirkarimi.

When the Ethics Commission hearing resumed after a couple hours, Lee was again placed in a position of denying specific factual allegations that others have made, again raising the possibility that he committed perjury in his sworn testimony, which could expose him to felony criminal charges while undercutting his moral authority to remove Mirkarimi over the single misdemeanor count of false imprisonment that he pleaded guilty to in March.

The second instance was when Kopp asked Lee, “Did you ever extend any offer through third parties that you would find him another job if he resigned?”

“I don’t recall offering Sheriff Mirkarimi any job,” Lee replied.

Kopp specifically asked whether that job offer had been extended on Lee’s behalf by permit expediter Walter Wong or by San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin, to which Lee replied, “Absolutely not.”

Mirkarimi supporters have told the Guardian that Peskin had made that offer, which Mirkarimi refused, shortly before the party chair publicly called for Mirkarimi’s resignation. The outgoing message on Peskin’s cell phone said he was unavailable and wouldn’t be checking his messages until July 5. Mirkarimi’s attorneys said they’re still figuring out how to respond to the developments and had no comment, but Walker said she’s willing to testify under oath.

But the dramas underscore the treacherous grounds opened up by these unprecedented proceedings, the first involving the Ethics Commission and the broadened definition of official misconduct placed into the City Charter in 1996. As baseball great Barry Bonds and former President Bill Clinton learned, being forced to testify under oath about sensitive topics can be a tough trap to negotiate.



Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith also seemed to be trying to spring that perjury trap on Mirkarimi as he took the stand on the morning of June 29 following an hour on the stand at the previous night’s hearing. Keith reminded Mirkarimi that he was advised not to discuss his testimony with anyone and asked, “Who have you spoken to since last night?”

“My attorneys,” Mirkarimi answered.

“What did you say to them?” Keith asked, drawing objections about attorney-client privilege that Commission Chair Benedict Hur sustained.

“Did you stop for coffee?” Keith then asked, seemingly concerned that Mirkarimi may have discussed his testimony with someone at the coffee shop that morning, which Mirkarimi denied. Keith let the allegation go but maintained an accusatory, hectoring tone throughout the next three hours that he had Mirkarimi on the stand, two more hours than he had told the commission he would need.

Much of the time was spent trying to establish support for the allegation that Mirkarimi had dissuaded witnesses and sought to thwart the police investigation, which was triggered by a call from Ivory Madison, a neighbor to whom Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, had confided. But the testimony yielded little more than the city’s unsupported inference that Mirkarimi must have directed Lopez and his campaign manager, Linnette Peralta Haynes, to contact Madison after she had called the police and urged her to stop cooperating with them.

Mirkarimi has maintained that he did nothing to dissuade Madison or anyone from talking to police, and that he wasn’t aware of the investigation or that Madison had made a videotape of Lopez showing a bruise on her arm until hours after the police were involved. He even sent a text to Lopez saying there was nothing he could do, as he noted.

“It was after 4pm on January 4 when I first learned of any of this,” Mirkarimi testified, later adding, “I was very clear to her in saying you can’t unring the bell, we have to follow through with this.”

Yet Lee and the deputy city attorneys who are representing him also maintain that they needn’t prove witness dissuasion or other allegations they have made, and that the Dec. 31 incident and Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to a single misdemeanor count of false imprisonment are enough to constitute official misconduct and warrant his removal, an interpretation that Mirkarimi’s attorneys dispute.

Keith sought to hammer home how Mirkarimi should have admitted to and publicly atoned for his crime right away rather than telling reporters it was a “private family matters” (which Mirkarimi admitted was a mistake) or fighting the charges by trying to discredit Madison publicly, an allegation he denies.

After unsuccessfully trying to get Mirkarimi to admit to directing efforts to question Madison’s credibility in local media accounts, Keith asked, “Did you ever direct anyone not to attack Ivory Madison?”

“I never directed anyone to attack or not attack,” Mirkarimi replied.

Keith also clarified that Mirkarimi denies the allegation Madison made that the physical abuse on Dec. 31 went beyond grabbing Lopez’s arm once in the car, as the couple has maintained. “It’s your testimony there was no punching, pulling, or grabbing in the house?” Keith asked, which Mirkarimi confirmed.

Yet Keith said that given the totality of what happened, Mirkarimi should have known he couldn’t continue on as sheriff. “Under those circumstances, wouldn’t resigning be the honorable thing to do?” Keith said, to which Mirkarimi replied that it’s a hard question and that he’s doing what he thinks is right.

Faced with friendlier questions from his own attorney, David Waggoner, Mirkarimi apologized for his actions, saying “I feel horrible and ashamed,” but that he was “sad and scared” to have his family torn apart against their will. He also said that he believes he can still be effective as sheriff because “what makes San Francisco special is our forward-thinking approach to criminal justice.”

Longtime Sheriff Michael Hennessey — who endorsed Mirkarimi and continues to support him — established a variety of programs emphasizing redemption and rehabilitation, hiring former convicts into top jobs in the department to emphasize a belief in restorative justice that Mirkarimi ran a campaign promising to continue.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be an example of what this redemption process looks like,” Mirkarimi said, choking back tears.

But Keith had the last word before Mirkarimi left the stand, belittling the idea that Mirkarimi offers an example to follow by noting how much probation time and court-ordered counseling he still has to undergo and asking, “The process of redemption doesn’t happen overnight, right?”



Under questioning by Kopp, Mayor Lee admitted that he doesn’t have a written policy on what constitutes official misconduct, that his decisions are made on “a case by case basis,” and that he’s not sure whether conviction of a crime would always constitute official misconduct “because I’ve never confronted this before.”

“Were you aware that many members of the Sheriff Department have criminal convictions?” Kopp asked. Lee said he was not aware. Asked whether he was aware that Sheriff Hennessey had hired a convicted murderer into a top command staff position (see “The unlikely sheriff,” 12/21/11), Lee said he wasn’t.

Lee’s insistence that Mirkarimi’s crime makes him unable to deal effectively with other officials was also attacked by Kopp, who asked, “Isn’t it true that people get elected who have disagreements with other city officials?” He pointed out that City Attorney Dennis Herrera had nasty conflicts with Lee when they ran against each other for mayor last year, but that they’re working well together now.

Kopp also drilled into Lee about his decision to bring official misconduct charges before conducting an investigation or speaking with any witnesses besides Madison — an answer Lee blurted out just as city attorneys objected to the question. Much of Madison’s written testimony has been rejected by the commission as prejudicial hearsay evidence (see “Mayor vs. Mirkarimi,” July 27).

But the public’s perception of this case, if not it’s outcome, could turn on whether Lee is holding Mirkarimi to standards that he himself — as someone appointed mayor on a later-broken promise not to run for a full term — couldn’t meet. It was what Kopp seemed to be driving at before the bomb scare.

“You have asserted in your written charges that Sheriff Mirkarimi’s conduct fell below the standard of decency, good faith, and right action that is impliedly required of all public officials, correct?” Kopp asked.

“Yes,” Lee replied.

“We expect certain things of our elected officials, right?” Kopp asked.

After a long pause, in which Lee appeared to be thinking through his answer, he replied, “That’s generally true, yes.”

“And when the charter speaks of official misconduct, it doesn’t say we expect a certain standard for the sheriff, a different standard for the mayor, a different standard for the DA, a separate standard for the assessor, it just speaks in general terms about official misconduct for public officials, right?” Kopp asked.

Kaiser objected to the question on three counts, sustained on the grounds that it calls for a legal conclusion.

“Do you yourself believe there’s a separate standard for sheriff than for other elected officials?” Kopp asked, and this time the city’s objection was overruled and Lee replied, “It should be the same standard.”

“And would you agree with me that one of the things that is expected of elected officials is for them to be honest and forthright when dealing not only with their constituents, but with other elected officials?” Kopp asked, his final question before Chair Benedict Hur announced that the hearing would be suspended and the room would need to be cleared.

After the hearing reconvened, Kopp drew parallels to other city officials who remained on job after scandals, including former Mayor Gavin Newsom (who had an affair with a subordinate who was married to his campaign manager), former Sheriff Dick Hongisto (who was jailed for refusing to carry out a court’s eviction order), and current Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White (whose husband reported that she hit him in the head with a pint glass).

Asked about the latter case, Lee responded, “I don’t know all the circumstances around that and I don’t believe I was mayor at the time.”


Ethics Commission undercuts the main witness against Mirkarimi


The testimony of the star witness in Mayor Ed Lee’s official misconduct case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi came in for harsh criticism by the Ethics Commission last night, with that body striking most of it as prejudicial and unsupported hearsay evidence that should have never been introduced, something that even the city’s attorneys admitted and apologized for.

It was a serious blow to the city’s case that also undercuts the written testimony of the city’s domestic violence expert, attorney Nancy Lemon, who based much of her analysis and judgments on this discredited and disallowed testimony of Ivory Madison, the neighbor and confidante of Mirkarimi’s wife who reported the Dec. 31 domestic violence incident to police.

Meanwhile, Lee was confronted by a large pack of reporters following his monthly appearance before the Board of Supervisors earlier the day, which peppered him with pointed questions about his decision to bring what is evolving into an expensive, complicated, and nasty prosecution of Mirkarimi rather than simply allowing him to be recalled by voters. The exchange made news when Lee characterized Mirkarimi’s arm-grabbing incident as “the beating of his wife.”

Mirkarimi and his attorneys labeled that comment and much of the city’s case as simply a smear campaign that goes well beyond the narrow question of whether Mirkarimi committed official misconduct and should be removed from office, which the commission is still in the process of setting up procedures to answer.

Yesterday’s hearing dealt mostly with deciding whether to exclude or allow the written testimony of nearly two dozen witnesses. The only testimony that was stricken entirely was that of Paul Henderson, Lee’s criminal justice adviser, who testified that Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to misdemeanor false imprisonment for the grabbing incident would hurt his ability to function as the sheriff. The commission found the testimony to be irrelevant and prejudicial, clearly upsetting Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser.

But the big news from last week’s hearing was the dim view that the commission took of Madison’s 22-page declaration, which painted Mirkarimi as domineering and oppressive, a bleak picture that she attributed to his wife, Eliana Lopez, as conveyed during repeated conversations between October and December as the couple was having marital problems. Madison is the main source supporting the city’s most serious allegations: that Mirkarimi abused his wife and then tried to thwart a police investigation

Commissioner Paul Renne – a career litigator appointed to the commission by the District Attorney’s Office – took the lead role in criticizing Madison’s testimony and the city for allowing it, ruing the fact that it was used by the Examiner and other media outlets to paint a defamatory “portrait of verbal abuse and child neglect inside Mirkarimi’s fear-ridden household,” as the Examiner put it on the cover of yesterday’s paper.

“I saw that and I thought maybe this idea of [taking initial testimony through written] declarations is not protective of the interests of everyone,” Renne said.

“I was disappointed by the content of Ivory Madison’s declaration. A first-year lawyer should know that much of it is inadmissible and it should not have been given to us,” Renne told Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, calling it “clearly hearsay, clearly having the intention of poisoning the well of this hearing.”

Keith didn’t even try to defend most of the declaration, responding to Renne by saying, “We have an independent witness that is represented by [her own legal] counsel and we didn’t have control over everything that was submitted…I think the criticism is well-taken and we didn’t mean to put matters before the commission that are not relevant.”

“But you were the one who submitted the declaration,” Renne responded, telling Keith that the city must avoiding engaging in character assassination that goes beyond the scope of the commission’s inquiry, which will result in a formal recommendation going to the Board of Supervisors near the end of summer.

“My recommendation is we reject the declaration and you bring her in for live testimony,” Renne recommended. The rest of the commission seemed to agree with Renne’s criticism, but it opted to go through the declaration line-by-line, removing most of it from the proceedings. Madison is also expected to testify live and be subjected to a tough cross-examination by Mirkarimi’s attorneys, who say she has blown the incident out-of-proportion and broke the confidence of Lopez, who denies that Mirkarimi was ever abusive.

In arguing unsuccessfully for much of Madison’s written testimony to remain in the record, Keith told the commission that it was the basis for Lemon’s assessment of patterns of behavior by batterers, thus undercutting that testimony as well.

“If they’re untrue, they’re meaningless, right?” Renne asked Keith, referring to the sensational tales Madison told about Mirkarimi’s controlling behavior.

But Keith said that even if the stories Lopez told Madison were untrue or highly embellished – as Lopez’s attorney, Paula Canny, has implied as she characterized her client as building a child custody case in the event the couple divorced – they are still relevant to understanding why Madison reported Mirkarimi to the police.

“Whether or not these actions happened, it’s relevant to her concerns,” Keith said.

But Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp said that, like much of the city’s case, hearsay testimony based on flawed and prejudicial information should be irrelevant to these proceedings and shouldn’t be allowed as evidence against Mirkarimi.

“Their expert, Ms. Lemon, can believe what she wants, but that doesn’t mean it should come in as evidence,” Kopp said.

The hearing was continued to next week when Mirkarimi, Lee, and other key witnesses are expected to begin giving live testimony before the commission on June 28 and 29. Click here to read the various documents associated with the case.

The Mirkarimi case: Did the city want to settle?


The real news in the Ross Mirkarimi case isn’t the sheriff attempting to get the city to pay his legal fees; that’s just something he had to try but it was a long shot at best. The story that’s come out in bits and pieces since we broke it is far more interesting:

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, with or without the knowledge of his client the mayor, offered to begin discussions with Mirkarimi around settling the case — and the conflicting accounts of what went on show haw harsh this legal proceding has become.

Whatever you think about Mirkarimi’s actions on New Year’s Eve — and I’ve said many times that what he did was unacceptable — the intensity of the prosecution, particularly in the removal proceding, is unprecedented.

Some of the political fallout is clearly Mirkarimi’s fault. He bruised his wife, got bad advice early on, said the wrong things, and didn’t do enough to repair the damage. But now Mirkarimi’s lawyer is charging that the city attorney used a nasty legal gambit to try to convince the embattled sheriff to resign.

David Waggoner, in a TV interview with KGO’s Dan Noyes, and later in discussions with me, said that City Attorney Dennis Herrera offered to look for a way to keep the video of Mirkarimi’s wife out of the public eye — if Mirkarimi would take a financial settlement and resign from his elected position.

Mirkarimi told me the offer he heard from his lawyer put him in a terrible bind: Franky, the video contains nothing that hasn’t already been out, and won’t be the defining issue in the official misconduct case now before the Ethics Commission. But his wife, Eliana Lopez, was adamant that she didn’t want the 45-second clip on the Internet, where she — and more important, their three-year-old son — will have to live with it forever.

“They were using the needs of my family to pressure me,” Mirkarimi said.

Waggoner was pretty specific about his recollection of the settlement discussions. He said that after Herrera contacted him to say that he was willing to discuss settling the case, Waggoner made it clear that keeping the video sealed had to be part of any deal.

“We hung up, and then he called me back five minutes later to say that his government team was working on it, and he thought they could keep the video under seal,” Waggoner said. “The mayor and the city attorney were using the video as leverage.”

Hererra confirmed that he reached out to Waggoner to see if Mirkarimi’s legal team was interested in settlement discussions. But told me that Waggoner’s story was “absolutely, categorically untrue.” He insisted that he had no choice but to release the video, since several media outlets had requested it under the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance.

In a statement issued June 8, Hererra attacked not only Mirkarimi but his attorneys:

“Everyone involved in this case was well aware of the City’s legal obligations under the Sunshine Ordinance (which Ross Mirkarimi himself had a hand in drafting).  The City invoked the maximum allowable two-week extension after receiving Sunshine requests for the video, to allow other parties to seek a protective order.  But opposing counsel dropped the ball.  They didn’t get a protective order.  They didn’t seek Supreme Court review.  They didn’t raise the issue at the Ethics Commission hearing.  And as far as I know, [Lopez’s counsel Paula] Canny didn’t even bother to show up at the hearing.  So, I think it’s a little absurd now to be playing martyr.  These are lawyers representing a former lawmaker.  They have no excuse for not knowing the law.”

Wow. Sounds like the usually level-headed Herrera is one pissed-off attorney.

Interestingly, Mayor Lee told Noyes that he didn’t know anything about any settlement discussions. Either that’s false (the mayor could have been instructed by Herrera not to say anything) or Herrera was going ahead without the mayor’s knowledge or permission.

So let’s set aside for the moment the back-and-forth about who’s telling the truth and what was really involved in the negotiations. Here’s what’s not in any serious dispute:

Herrera, representing the mayor, was sufficiently motivated to settle the case before it got to the Ethics Commission that he personally called Mirkarimi’s attorney to see if there was any possibility of finding a way out. Again: Attorneys in the most bitter lawsuits are advised to seek settlement. But this isn’t in court, and no judge mandated a settlement conference.

Which suggests that the city attorney and possibly the mayor would be a lot happier if this case just went away. Maybe Lee doesn’t like the drama. Maybe Herrera thinks it would be best for Mirkarimi and the city to put this in the past and move on.

Or maybe they aren’t sure this case is such a slam-dunk winner.

There’s another interesting twist, too: Mirkarimi told me that he asked the Probation Department for permission to fly to Venezuala to see his son. There were no conditions on his guilty plea barring him from travelling outside of the country (what — they think he won’t come back? That he has run through all of his money and put himself heavily in debt to fight a case that he’s now going to run away from?) But when he made a formal request, it was denied.
That’s right — probation officials refused to let him go visit his son. Forget Mirkarimi — that’s not fair to the three-year-old kid who did nothing wrong at all and is suffering for it.

The circus begins



Mayor Ed Lee and his attorneys are presenting a voluminous yet largely speculative case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in their effort to remove him for official misconduct, broadening the case far beyond their most damning core accusation -– that Mirkarimi dissuaded witnesses from telling police that he bruised his wife’s arm during an argument on Dec. 31. And so far, there’s no evidence to support that key allegation.

In fact, Mirkarimi and his attorneys insist there was no effort to dissuade witnesses, one of many unsupported aspects to a case they say should never have been filed without stronger evidence. And they say the mayor’s team is now compensating for the weakness of its case by piling on irrelevant accusations and witnesses in an effort that amounts to character assassination.

There are even signs that the city is nervous about its case. Knowledgeable sources told the Guardian that the City Attorney’s Office last week offered to settle the case with Mirkarimi, offering a substantial financial settlement if he would agree to resign, an offer that Mirkarimi rejected.

It was one of a series of rapidly unfolding developments that also included a raucous Ethics Commission hearing, the disclosure of phone records by Mirkarimi’s side, a new list of charges, and the city’s release of the video Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, made with neighbor Ivory Madison, documenting the bruise in case of a child custody battle over their son.

Lopez has maintained that Mirkarimi never abused her and that she’s been hurt most by the efforts to prosecute him and remove him from office.

“I hope they realize after reflection that what they have done is irreparable and perpetually damaging to me and my family,” Lopez said in a statement condemning the city’s release of a video that she fears will remain online for her children and grandchildren to see.

Yet all indications are this spectacle is only going to grow more sordid, divisive, and sensational as it moves forward — belying the statement Lee made last week as he introduced his annual budget: “As many of you know, I’m a person who does not like a whole lot of drama.”


The May 29 Ethics Commission hearing to begin setting standards and procedures for the official misconduct proceedings against Mirkarimi illustrated two sharply divergent views on when elected officials should be removed from office. It also displayed the increasingly bitter acrimony and resentments on each side, emotions only likely to grow more pronounced as the hearings drag on for months against the backdrop of election season.

Both sides would like to see the decision as a simple one. Lee and his team of attorneys and investigators say Mirkarimi’s bruising of his wife’s arm and his unwillingness to cooperate with their investigation of what followed make him unfit for office. Mirkarimi and his lawyers admit his crime, but they say that’s unrelated to his official duties and that the rest of Lee’s charges against him are speculative and untrue.

Yet there’s nothing simple about this official misconduct case — or with the implications of how each side is trying to counter the others’ central claims. So despite the stated desires of some Ethics commissioners to narrow the scope of their inquiry and limit the number of witnesses, San Franciscans appear to be in for a long, dramatic, and divisive spectacle, with Mirkarimi’s fate decided by the Board of Supervisors just a month or so before the five supervisors who have been his closest ideological allies face reelection. Nine of 11 votes are required to remove an official.

The Mayor’s Office wants to call the most witnesses and present an elaborate (and expensive) case that includes a number of outside experts on law enforcement and domestic violence, painting a portrait of Mirkarimi as a serious wife-batterer whose past and future actions can be divined from that malevolent distinction, making him obviously unable to continue as San Francisco’s chief law enforcement officer.

“The extent of the abuse was far greater than what Mr. Mirkarimi has testified to,” claimed Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, going on to say “there were attempts to control what she ate,” an apparent reference to Mirkarimi’s decision not to take Lopez to a restaurant for lunch on Dec. 31 because they were having a heated argument. He also repeatedly referred to Mirkarimi as a batterer and said “batterers behave in a certain way.”

Mirkarimi attorney Shepard Kopp calls that portrayal exaggerated and unfair, ridiculing the Mayor’s Office claims that its domestic violence expert, attorney Nancy Lemon, can predict Mirkarimi’s behavior based on grabbing his wife’s arm once: “Apparently she’s some kind of clairvoyant in addition to being an expert,” Kopp told the commission as he unsuccessfully sought Lemon’s removal from the witness list.

Ethics Commission Chair Benedict Hur took the lead role in trying to limit the witness list, focusing on stripping it of the various law enforcement experts who plan to describe how different agencies might react to dealing with Mirkarimi. “What I don’t understand is how his ability to do his job relates to whether he committed official misconduct,” Hur said.

Mirkarimi’s team says its case could be very simple, with only Lee and Mirkarimi called as live witnesses — but the attorneys reserved the right to offer testimony to counter false or damaging claims made by the Mayor’s Office.

Hur tried to limit the case to just witnesses and arguments that relate to Mirkarimi’s actions, but he was outvoted by those who wanted to let the city argue how those actions would affect perceptions of Mirkarimi by the many people that a sheriff must interact with.

In the end, the commissioners agreed to trim the eight expert witnesses sought by the mayor down to three and to cut its 17 proposed fact witnesses down to 12, calling 15 total witnesses. Mirkarimi’s team will call 10 witnesses, down from an initial 17. All witnesses will submit written declarations and then be subjected to live cross-examination if any of their testimony is disputed.


The speculative and prejudicial nature of some of the city’s case was attacked at the hearing by Mirkarimi’s attorneys and the large crowd that came to support him.

Commissioner Paul Renne asked the Mayor’s Office attorneys why they hadn’t summarized the expected testimony of their expert witnesses and “How are any of those opinions relevant to the issues in this case?”

“I have not had time to work with the witnesses to see what their opinions are,” replied Deputy City Attorney Sherry Kaiser, prompting Kopp to incredulously note, “The mayor is preparing the expert witnesses without knowing what their testimony will be. How can I respond to that?”

The issues of bias and conflicts of interest also came up surrounding what sources should be called as witnesses. Mirkarimi’s team wanted longtime Sheriff Michael Hennessey, Mirkarimi’s predecessor, while the Mayor’s Office pushed for Acting Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to convey how the Sheriff’s Department should function.

“Vicki Hennessy was a political appoint of Mayor Lee,” Waggoner objected, although the commission decided to use that appointee.

On several critical procedural questions, the commission sided with the Mayor’s Office, ruling that the commission decision needn’t be unanimous, that guilt could be established based on a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, and that normal rules of evidence won’t apply, with some hearsay evidence allowed on a case-by-case basis.

The pro-mayor decisions angered the roughly 200 Mirkarimi supporters who packed the commission hearing and an overflow room, many bearing blue “We stand with Ross” stickers and flyers, which had “Respect Eliana” on the flip side. There were only a couple of Mirkarimi critics at the hearing wearing white “I support Casa de las Madres” stickers, referring to the domestic violence group that has been calling for Mirkarimi’s removal since shortly after the incident went public.

Mirkarimi got a rousing welcome from the crowd when he arrived at the hearing, his voice choking up and eyes welling with tears as he said, “I cannot tell you, on behalf of me and my family, how grateful we are.”

The crowd was boisterous during the proceedings, loudly reacting to some claims by the deputy city attorneys and offering comments such as “Ed Lee is the one you should put on trial,” with Hur finally recessing the hearing after an hour and having deputies warn audience members that they would be removed for speaking out.

Renne, a career litigator and the District Attorney’s Office appointee to the commission, raised the most doubts about both the standard of guilt and rules of evidence being lower than in criminal proceedings, telling his colleagues, “I have some reservations.”


Mirkarimi’s team also released to the Chronicle and the Guardian redacted phone records from Mirkarimi, Lopez, and Linnette Peralta Haynes — a family friend and social worker who served as Mirkarimi’s last campaign manager. The city has sought to portray Haynes, who has not been cooperating with the investigation, as a conduit to Mirkarimi’s efforts to dissuade Lopez and Madison from going to the police on Jan. 4.

Mirkarimi previously told the Guardian that he was unaware that Lopez had told Madison about the abuse incident or that they had made a video of her injury until several hours after Madison had called the police and they had come to the house to talk to Lopez, during which time Mirkarimi was in a series of meetings at City Hall.

The phone records seem to support that claim. They show that Lopez and Haynes — who is close to Lopez and recently went to Venezuela to visit her — exchanged a series of telephone calls on Jan. 4 starting at 11am. Their longest conversation, nearly 40 minutes, occurred at 11:18am.

Neither woman could be reached to describe the substance of that call. At 12:24pm, Lopez sent Madison — with whom she had been communicating by phone and text over the previous couple days — a text message indicating that she didn’t want Madison to report the incident to police, but that she would instead go to her doctor to document the injury.

A minute later, Madison called the police to report that Lopez had been abused by Mirkarimi.

Starting an hour later, the records show, Haynes and Lopez called each other but didn’t connect until 3:31, when they had a nearly 14-minute phone conversation, presumably discussing the fact that police had visited the house, with Lopez reportedly giving the phone to Madison at one point so Haynes could talk to her.

Yet the phone records indicate that neither Lopez nor Haynes tried to reach Mirkarimi until after that conversation, despite the city’s claims that Mirkarimi “or his agents” used his power to dissuade witnesses, most notably Lopez and Madison. The first attempt to reach Mirkarimi was at 3:46pm when Haynes called him twice but didn’t connect. Lopez then sent Mirkarimi a text message at 3:53pm asking “Where are you and where is the car,” but she got not reply. She texted him again at 4:18pm to say “Call me. It’s an emergency.”

Lopez made one last appeal to Madison in a 4:18pm phone conservation that lasted four minutes and 27 seconds and then she finally reached Mirkarimi by phone at 4:23pm. Mirkarimi and attorney David Waggoner say this is the first time that he became aware that Lopez had talked to neighbors and that the police had been called. Their conversation lasted a little more than five minutes.

Mirkarimi called Haynes at 5:12pm and they spoke for seven minutes. At 5:51pm, an increasingly panicked Lopez sent a text to Mirkarimi saying, “You have to call [Sheriff Michael] Hennessey and stop this before something happen. Ivory is giving the investigators everything. Use your power.” To which Mirkarimi responded 10 minutes later, “I cannot. And neither can he. You have to reject Madison’s actions. We both do. I cannot involve new people.”


On June 1, the city released an amended list of charges against Mirkarimi that was intended to be a more specific list of accusations, as Waggoner requested during the May 29 Ethics Commission hearing. In it, the city asserts that the charter language essentially gives the city two avenues by which to remove officials, defining distinct “wrongful behavior” and “required conduct” clauses. Violation of either, they contend, is enough to remove an official.

“Official misconduct means any wrongful behavior by a public officer in relation to the duties of his or her office, willful in its character, including any failure, refusal or neglect of an officer to perform any duty enjoined on him or her by law…,” begins the charter language. This “wrongful behavior” section has long been in the charter, referring to specific actions by public officials to neglect their duties.

The second “required conduct” clause of this sentence — which was created in 1996, never vetted by the courts, and which Mirkarimi’s attorneys say is unconstitutionally vague — continues, “…or conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers and including any violation of a specific conflict of interest or governmental ethics law.”

In trying to indict Mirkarimi for actions before he was sworn in as sheriff, the city attempts to argue that his official duties really began with his election, claiming that in this interim period he “had the duty and the power in his official capacity as Sheriff-Elect to work with the Sheriff’s Department and its officials to prepare himself to assume the full duties of Sheriff.” And if that’s not enough, the city argues that he was chair of the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee during that same Nov. 8-Jan. 8 time period, further subjecting his actions to official misconduct scrutiny.

The “wrongful actions” charges against Mirkarimi were listed in the document as domestic violence, abuse of office, impeding a police investigation, and “crime, conviction, and sentence,” while the “breach of required conduct” charges were listed simply as his sheriff and supervisorial roles.

The document then attempts to paint an expansive portrait of the Sheriff’s official duties, going beyond the narrow construction of the charter to include the general law enforcement duties listed in state law, interactions with various government and nonprofit groups, administrative responsibilities as a city department head, and passing mentions in the California Family Code that police officers “must enforce emergency protective orders in domestic violence cases.”

Yet the promise that the rest of the document would detail Mirkarimi’s wrongful actions with greater specificity than the previous list of official charges doesn’t seem to be met by this document, which repeats the same narrative of actions that Waggoner had criticized for vagueness.

For example, on the pivotal charge that he dissuaded witnesses and impeded the police investigation, the new charges say that during the period from Dec. 31-Jan. 4, “Sheriff Mirkarimi participated in and condoned efforts to dissuade witnesses from reporting this incident to police and/or cooperating with police investigators,” without describing any specific witnesses or actions that he took.

And by the mayor’s team’s own admissions, the prosecutors don’t know what Mirkarimi did to dissuade witnesses, which they hope to learn through future testimony.

The closest the new document comes to directly tying Mirkarimi’s actions to the official misconduct language is with Mirkarimi’s plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge: “False imprisonment of a spouse is a crime of domestic violence. The California Penal Code considers spousal abuse to be a ‘crime against public decency and good morals.'”

Mirkarimi disagrees with that interpretation, noting that he and his attorneys specifically considered whether pleading to false imprisonment -– a general charge with many possible meanings -– would violate the city’s official misconduct provisions, and he told the Guardian that he was assured by his attorneys it didn’t. Mirkarimi told us he would not have entered the plea and would have instead fought the charges in court if he thought it would disqualify him from serving as sheriff.

Waggoner told us that “The Mayor’s Amended Charges are further evidence that this entire ordeal is a political hatchet job reminiscent of a Soviet show trial. Far from being a careful analysis of any actual evidence, the new charges are vague, redundant, and conflate the offices of Sheriff and Supervisor.”

But ultimately, the case against Mirkarimi is a political one, not a legal case subjected to the normal standards of evidence and procedure. And whether Mirkarimi keeps his job will be a decision made by politicians based on a variety of factors, some of which have little relation to whatever happened on Dec. 31 and Jan. 4.

What’s next: the Ethics Commission will meet on June 19 to rule on more of the outstanding issues in the case and begin hearing testimony. To review the long list of documents from the case, visit www.sfethics.org.

Sheriff’s wife talks to KGO-TV


KGO’s Dan Noyes flew to Caracas, Venezuela to interview the wife of embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, and while her comments haven’t made anywhere near the media splash that most scraps of information on this sordid tale create, it’s very much worth watching the video. Check it out here.

Remember as you watch: Mirkarimi hasn’t been able to speak to his wife in months. The stay-away order prevents him from seeing her or phoning her or emailing her or contacting her in any way (except to coordinate his limited visits and skype calls with his son). It’s possible that the two of them came up with a joint story early on in the process, before the restraining order, but unless that happened, they’re both offering independent versions of the events.

And a lot of what Lopez says is consistent with a lot of what Mirkarimi says.

She tells Noyes that she was never afraid of her husband or fearful for their son. She says that she thought her neighbor, Ivory Madison, was an attorney and that the video — designed to be used in a possible future custody battle — would be confidential. (Madison’s lawyer disputes that.) She tells more or less the same tale of that New Year’s Eve that Mirkarimi does.

She also says there was no prior incidence of domestic violence — that her comments on the tape about “the second time” referred only to an earlier verbal argument about her travel to Venezuala.

Not defending Mirkarimi’s actions here (and no, trolls, I never have). Just saying that it’s important to hear his wife’s (presumably) unvarished version of events when we make judgments around whether he should keep his job. (The mayor never bothered to talk to Lopez before he filed official misconduct charges).

I don’t think the embattled sheriff was happy to hear his wife say that the couple may divorce, or that she may not return to San Francisco (the city, she says — justifiably — hasn’t been nice to her).

But I think the voice of Eliana Lopez has been missing too long in this whole political battle, and I’m glad to see she’s speaking out.

GUEST OPINION: The politics of retribution


By Debra Walker and Krissy Keefer

We have been shocked and saddened by the perpetual attack on Ross Mikarimi and his family.

To Ross’s credit, he took responsibility in the criminal case he faced, and accepted a plea bargain to a non-domestic-violence misdemeanor that the district attorney concluded served the interests of justice.

He and his wife, Eliana Lopez, had resolved their dispute before the betrayed disclosure to the police and the media by the trained but unlicensed attorney that began the criminal case. The plea bargain was vetted and all legal ethicists consulted concluded that the plea bargain could not be the basis of any action against Ross for the now infamous term “official misconduct.” Ross was ordered into counseling.

Since the criminal case ended we have watched the mayor, domestic-violence advocates, and the majority of the print media, collectively pass judgment without connection to reality, with devastating consequences to Ross Mirkarimi, his family and the people of San Francisco.

Mayor Ed Lee suspended Ross without a hearing and without pay. In other words, the mayor acted against Ross without due process. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has merely repeated all of the unsubstantiated allegations from a newspaper opinion piece in the form of a pleading — and actually submitted this as fact, further embarrassing our city.

Barring further intervention by the courts, the Board of Supervisors and the Ethics Commission will now be forced to publicly weigh in on the concluded criminal case that occurred before Ross was in office.

Was the punishment laid out by the courts not enough? Are we going to all sit back and watch as San Francisco engages in a public political assassination of a progressive elected official? At what point does it stop? 

Clearly it hasn’t stopped with Ross. Now the mayor and the city attorney have begun the attack on his campaign manager and well-known City Hall aide Linette Peralta-Hayes. Who is next? It could be any of us, of you.

As close friends of Ross and Eliana, we can attest to the fact that this family has paid dearly for their now very public fight and we all should hope for a healing. It does not bring justice to any women’s issues to have such a public display of retribution and revenge. Blowing this out of proportion like this has been only sets the stage for the continued backlash against women’s real issues.

If there were not a complete attack on women’s rights at this time in our country, this might be easier to stomach. Not one thing about this has advanced the rights of women or the understanding of domestic violence. Instead, the criminal justice system has been manipulated to further a political agenda of removing an elected official from office.

We all make mistakes in life. There have been several recent occasions involving officials actually in office where their behavior was questioned.  One issues involved sexual contact with a subordinate, another involved domestic violence and others involved substance abuse. In not one of these instances has the person been removed office.

To remove Ross from office is political and nothing else.

People are purportedly so outraged on behalf of abused women everywhere. But where is the outrage about the coordinated attack on choice in our country or about the documented inhumanities perpetrated against women throughout the world, even today?  Or equal pay, or adequate healthcare? What about the families losing their homes to greedy banks? Nothing of substance gets done on these issues. Instead, attention is focused away from the important issues to the personal shortcomings of the politicians seeking to address those issues.

From the impeachment efforts against Clinton to the allegations against the Wikileaks activist, there are over-amped attacks aimed to politically destroy the target in the press.  “Due process” and “innocent until proven guilty” are essentially thrown out the pressroom window. 
In the name of domestic violence, the mayor and the city attorney have removed an elected official from office. Domestic violence advocates are being used to further an agenda that is hypocritical and ultimately will undermine and dis-empower us all.

Ross Mikirimi was the only progressive elected in the last election. Ross has always been an ideological feminist. The established power brokers in City Hall did not want Ross to be sheriff. They do not want someone who advocates for diversity. They do not want someone who supports the rights of the people to implement the Compassionate Use Act and maintain cannabis dispensaries. They do not want a sheriff who will stand up to the federal government.  They do not want a sheriff who will stand with the 99 percent.

San Francisco is a great city not because of intolerance but because of tolerance. The strength of the city came about because of respect for diversity and encouragement of diversity. Ross stands for those principles.

Ross made a mistake in his personal relationship. Eliana Lopez, his wife, has clearly forgiven him. Each of us should do the same. To do otherwise is to disrespect Lopez.

Are we going to trust City Hall to be the arbitrators of conduct?  And are we really going to sit by and watch as they systematically throw untrue, unfounded, unsubstantiated accusations at whomever they want? Really?

To use this incident as the basis for this coup is without precedent. City Hall’s actions are without basis in fact and without foundation in law.

We believe that the mayor, among others, is doing what he wants to under the guise of women’s rights. We do not want to be used in that way.

There is something very wrong with what is happening — and sadly if this public political assassination can happen to Ross and his family, it can and will happen to anyone of us. Ask Linette Peralta Hayes.
Krissy Keefer is artist director, Dance Mission Theater. Debra Walker, an artist, is political development chair of the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.

City case speculates about Mirkarimi’s interference with investigation


The City Attorney’s Office laid out much of its case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi yesterday when it released a list of witnesses and their expected testimony, as requested by the Ethics Commission, and it offers little support for the city’s accusation that Mirkarimi dissuaded witnesses or sought to destroy evidence of a crime, which are among the most serious allegations in the official misconduct case against him.

The longest and most significant section in the brief was the testimony of Ivory Madison, the neighbor who initiated the police investigation into whether Mirkarimi physically abused his wife, Eliana Lopez, during a Dec. 31 incident that she subsequent reported to Madison, who made a video of her story and a bruise on her arm.

It was the most detailed account yet of what happened from the perspective of Madison, who has refused media interviews, and it differs in some key areas from accounts that Mirkarimi gave to the Guardian and other media outlets.

For example, Mirkarimi said he grabbed his wife’s arm in the car during a heated argument and that tempers had cooled by the time they went inside. But Madison is expected to testify that, “Inside the house, Sheriff Mirkarimi pushed, pulled and grabbed Ms. Lopez, who was crying and screaming, as was their son. Ms. Lopez asked Sheriff Mirkarimi to stop, and said look what you’re doing to our son. Ms. Lopez then ran out of the house. While both inside and outside the house, Lopez was yelling, do you want me to call the police. When Ms. Lopez yelled about calling the police while outside, Sheriff Mirkarimi said no, come inside. Ms Lopez went back inside.”

It is unclear from the memo whether Madison was a direct witness to those events or whether they were relayed to her by Lopez, but it sounds like the latter given that the story is in a paragraph that began with the phrase “According to Ms. Lopez.” Since the incident, Lopez has consistently denied that Mirkarimi abused her and downplayed the conflict. The only other neighbor on the witness list, Callie Williams, wasn’t at home during the conflict, but she’s expected to testify that Lopez told her about that and an earlier instance of abuse and that “Sheriff Mirkarimi was scared that she was going to tell people what happened.”

While Madison’s expected testimony confirms Lopez’s account that the video was made to be used in the event of a child custody battle if the couple divorced, Madison’s account paints Lopez as actively worried about her safety: “Ms. Madison suggested calling the police. Ms. Lopez was afraid that the police would not believe her and would not protect her from Sheriff Mirkarimi, and was concerned about what the police could do to protect her.”

It also confirms what journalist Phil Bronstein, a friend Madison called for advice, told the Guardian about Madison’s initial call to police being a simple inquiry and that she didn’t intend to initiate a police investigation just yet. And it indicates that “Ms. Lopez was unhappy about the investigation. Ms. Lopez called Linnette Peralta Haynes (Sheriff Mirkarimi’s campaign manager in the November 2011 election) on her mobile phone. After speaking with Ms. Haynes, Ms. Lopez handed her phone to Ms. Madison. Ms. Haynes attempted to dissuade Ms. Madison from cooperating with the police and attempted to persuade Ms. Madison to lie to the police.”

Yet there is nothing in Madison’s expected testimony to indicate Mirkarimi was behind any of these efforts, and he denies it and says that he wasn’t even aware that Lopez had talked to Madison or made a video or that police had been called at that point. Peralta Haynes, who sources say is in the late stage of a difficult pregnancy, hasn’t cooperated with the investigation so it’s obviously speculative on the city’s part to indicate that she was acting as Mirkarimi’s “agent” in thwarting the investigation, as the city is claiming.

The only “evidence” that the city seems to offer in support of its accusation that Mirkarimi tried to thwart the criminal investigation comes from Madison’s husband, Abraham Mertens, who is expected to repeat the claim he first made in a controversial March 20 op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that, “During the time that SFPD inspectors were interviewing Ms. Madison on January 4, Mr. Mertens received a telephone call from Eliana Lopez urging him to make Ms. Madison stop talking to the police. Mr. Mertens heard Sheriff Mirkarimi’s voice in the background,” a more resolute version than Mertens had previously given when he wrote in the op-ed: “I recognized what I thought was Ross’ voice in the background.” Mertens also has not answered Guardian calls.

Mirkarimi categorically denies that he was present during that phone call and says that he was in meetings at City Hall and that he wasn’t aware that any of this was happening at the time. And he has denied urging Peralta Hayes to get involved, but her testimony could evolve into evidence if the city can show they talked before she spoke to Madison, but that’s still speculative. The city is seeking live testimony from Peralta Haynes about her communications with Mirkarimi on Jan. 4 and before.

During the recent Ethics Commission hearing on setting up procedures for the hearing, Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp noted that the city hadn’t done key interviews or collected physical evidence (such as phone records or the Lopez video) to support its charges against Mirkarimi before making its allegation, something that Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith didn’t dispute, noting that the the city had not yet received much of the evidence that it intends to present, such as the video.

The city appears to be banking on compelling incriminating testimony from Lopez and Mirkarimi, who they plan to treat as hostile witnesses. The other interesting name on the city’s witness list was Mayor Ed Lee, who the city is recommending give live testimony and who could also likely be subjected to a vigorous cross-examination that could have interesting political ramifications.

Ethics Commission opens the long and complex case against Mirkarimi


Tonight’s first Ethics Commission hearing on the procedures and standards that will govern the official misconduct proceedings against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi showed just how complex, contentious, and drawn out this unprecedented process will be.

The commission made no decisions other than setting a schedule for both sides to submit a series of legal briefs and responses over the next five weeks, on which the five-member appointed body will begin making procedural decisions during a hearing set for May 29.

Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, who is representing Mayor Ed Lee and leading the city’s prosecution, took an aggressive tack in criticizing Mirkarimi for refusing to be deposed by him and announcing Lee’s intention to add that unwillingness to cooperate to the formal charges against Mirkarimi.

But Mirkarimi’s attorney Shepherd Kopp called that threat “beyond the pale. We have a legitimate legal question we need straightened out and we won’t be bullied.” That issue involves what rights and obligations Mirkarimi has in this process, which the commission has yet to establish. 

Kopp complained that the mayor and City Attorney’s Office are usurping the commission’s charter-mandated role as the investigative body in official misconduct cases by issuing subpoenas for evidence and witnesses before the rules for the hearings have even been set or Mirkarimi has been presented with the evidence against him.

“Until we understand what the mayor’s evidence is, we have no way of preparing a defense,” Kopp said, adding that, “The charges were brought before the evidence was in the mayor’s possession.”

He called for the commission to take control of the investigation and establish discovery rules rather than letting the Mayor’s Office act on its own. “We feel like we have one hand tied behind our backs,” he said. “Whatever the rules are, they ought to apply to both sides.”

There’s very little that Kopp and Keith agree on at this point. Kopp wants the Ethics Commission vote to be unanimous if it recommends removal, as with juries on criminal cases, but Keith argues that a simple majority will do. The Board of Supervisors will make the final decision, with nine of 11 supervisors required to remove an official. Kopp says the standard of guilt should be “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but the city will likely argue for a lower standard, such as preponderance of evidence.

Kopp wants the commission to establish the standard that official misconduct must be related to the sheriff’s official duties and have occurred while he is in office, but Keith indicated that the events of Jan. 4, when the police began to investigate the domestic violence incident and before Mirkarimi was sworn in as sheriff, are an important part of their case.  

Keith noted that Mirkarimi could demand a closed door hearing, as the courts have agreed that law enforcement officers are entitled to, but Kopp told the commission, “We do not intend to insist these hearings should be private. We want them to be public.”

There were even internal differences within the city. Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix last week wrote a memo recommending that testimony from witnesses be in written form, but the City Attorney’s Office today wrote a last-minute memo arguing the need for live testimony and cross-examination of witnesses.

“A live hearing is going to better serve the goals of the commission,” Keith argued, calling for it to be “something of a mini-trial.” Kopp agreed with that characterization, calling it “akin to a criminal proceeding,” and with the need to allow live testimony: “I think it will be unavoidable for at least a couple witnesses.”

Commission members asked a number of questions to both sides, but with such a broad range of issues still to be decided, they seemed to be only tentatively scratching the surface and unsure how to proceed. But there were a couple questions from Chair Benedict Hur that were illuminating.

“Does the mayor dispute that he has the burden of proof here?” Hur asked Keith, who replied, “No.”

Keith cited Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez, as two witnesses who will likely be the subject of live testimony and vigorous cross-examination. But when Hur asked Kopp whether he would object to the commission compelling testimony from Lopez, he said that’s connected to a variety of outstanding procedural issues and he wouldn’t be able to answer “for quite some time.”

Indeed, both sides have indicated that they would need at least 30 days to prepare their cases once all the procedural and evidentiary issues are resolved, pushing the hearing back until at least July, although all sides say they want the matter resolved as quickly as possible.

“The longer this drags out, the person being most prejudiced is the sheriff,” said Commissioner Paul Renne, who was appointed by District Attorney George Gascon in February and who opened the hearing by admitting having given a $100 campaign donation to Chris Cunnie, who ran against Mirkarimi. Ironically, it was Renne who seemed most taken aback by Keith’s threat to add Mirkarimi’s refusal to cooperate with the city’s prosecution to the charges against him.

But Kopp said Mirkarimi will be happy to offer his testimony and comply with requests for documents once the commission establishes the rules and procedures and exerts its authority over the proceedings: “If you think he’s got to cooperate and turn it over, we’ll do it.”

The first city brief is due April 30, but the most illuminating deadline will likely be May 7 when the Mayor’s Office must submit its proposed list of witnesses and a summary of their expected testimony, which should be an early indicator of the strength of their case against Mirkarimi.

GUEST OPINION: The Mirkarimi case — is this justice?


I appreciate that everyone is doing his or her best to dialogue on the very complicated, nuanced and difficult issue of domestic violence in a context where the press and politicians are doing their best to use the issue for their own agenda and making it a very polarizing issue in the media.

I know that many of us confront this issue at work, and  most encounter it in our own personal lives, so it is a very emotionally charged issue.  My heart goes out to Eliana Lopez, their son Theo, and yes, Ross.  As a practicing Buddhist, I find that people are often unwilling to forgive others, like Ross, because they are unwilling to forgive themselves for their own challenging impulses. 

We live in an emotionally and physically violent world, and demonizing Ross only externalizes the story, externalizes our own pain, denies our own impulses.  Anyone who thinks that he or she is perfect or above this seriously needs a mirror.  Bringing mindfulness to that is all that we can do and hope that we can have compassion for ourselves.  Truly, our inability to have compassion for him only exposes our inability to have compassion for ourselves.

Myrna Melgar, a survivor of domestic violence, wrote a very thoughtful piece for the SF Bay Guardian on restorative justice as an alternative to the criminal justice response to domestic violence, and if you get a chance, take a moment to read it.

For me, the main question she poses is:   “How did it come to be that a system that was intended to empower women has evolved into a system that disempowers them so completely?”  In short, when Ross grabbed her arm, it became a media/political frenzy that destroyed Eliana’s life.  Myrna posits that the increased criminalization on low-level, first offenses of domestic violence on this one immigrant woman, Eliana Lopez, meant that a long list of mostly men spent the next few months making decisions on her behalf without her input as she was treated as incompetent to make decisions.

Eliana never had a chance ever to find justice, to regain her power,  and Ross never really had the opportunity to take 100 percent responsibility for his actions, which is the goal of restorative justice.  For Ross to take 100 percent responsibility means not defending, not explaining, not evading.  Simply taking responsibility.  I haven’t seen Ross do this — but to be fair, he never had a chance.

I am a survivor of domestic violence as a child, and it has been painful to me to observe people using a family’s pain for their own political agendas and missing this opportunity to do things differently, There could have been a path where the powers that be could have acted with integrity towards this family, our city, and to all the survivors of domestic violence.  Instead, the whole situation was manipulated from beginning to end.

Honestly, no “side” has been perfect.  Those that are loyal to Ross seem unwilling to hear anything beyond how people are out to “get” him, and those that are against him, well, most of the resources against Ross are from a “side” that has all the social capital, resources, media,  and political power at their disposal which leaves me frustrated with those who are supposedly holding him accountable. 

It’s a disservice to survivors of domestic violence to be used a political pawns, and it’s a disservice to survivors of domestic violence for the media and governmental powers to be misused like this. 

As it relates to Ross being sheriff, it’s clear that the system for accountability has also broken down and no one trusts what is happening in the courts. And as one observer has written, “Are we considering the public punishment that has already been heaped on both Ross and Eliana? Was Mirkarimi’s act so vile that we don’t allow him a chance to attend domestic violence treatment and redeem himself before ruining his life?  I’m not defending domestic violence in any way, shape or form, but I do believe this situation has been badly politicized.”

It’s unfortunate.  It leaves me with little hope that justice will be served. I have long been a proponent of restorative justice, and now more than ever in my life, I see the power of taking full responsibility for my actions, for our actions.  I’m so sorry the road to healing and restoration was not taken in this case.


Gabriel Haaland is a survivor of domestic violence, and a queer, transfeminist man who sits on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.

“This was such a wipeout psychologically”: Mirkarimi tells the story Lee didn’t want to hear


As Ross Mirkarimi and his legal team prepare for a trio of legal hearings that could determine the future of his career, the suspended sheriff sat down with the Guardian for nearly two hours in his first extended interview recounting what happened during that fateful New Year’s Eve conflict with his wife, their actions in its aftermath, and whether any of it should cost him his job.

As the story continues to unfold, and the facts come out, it’s becoming more and more clear that neither of two central players – Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, and the neighbor who called the police, Ivory Madison – had any idea how this would play out, or, apparently, any desire for the incident to bring down the elected sheriff.

Mirkarimi has been in a bind for much of the last four months: Because of a pending criminal case, he hasn’t been able to tell his side of the story. And since he pled guilty instead of going to trial, his version of events is only now beginning to trickle out.

And the interview made clear that the man who has in the past been accused of arrogance has lost a lot of his ego.

“This was such a wipeout psychologically,” Mirkarimi said. “It makes me immensely insecure and has left me in vulnerable state.”

He looks it – the elected sheriff’s face is drawn, almost haggard. His once-frequent smile and laughter is almost gone.

>>Read our full Mirkarimi coverage here.

He’s a politician who freely admits he had marital troubles, was in some ways a bad husband, treated his wife poorly and, in an incident sparked by his own anger, physically hurt her. He knows he’s let down his supporters and damaged his once-bright political future.

He’s struggling to keep his job, arguing that the incident has been blown out of proportion and inappropriately used to remove him from elected office, with Mayor Ed Lee showing a reckless disregard for the truth before making the rare decision to institute official misconduct proceedings.

And you don’t have to endorse Mirkarimi’s actions or even agree that he should stay in office to find indications that the mayor’s case against him is shaky and at times clearly unfair.

Judge Harold Kahn will hear arguments today [April 19] that the City Attorney’s Office should be barred for overseeing the official conduct proceedings, and the next day he will hear Mirkarimi’s main challenges to Lee’s actions, including the arguments that the city’s official misconduct statute is unconstitutionally broad and that Mirkarimi was denied due process before being suspended without pay.

Then, on April 23, the Ethics Commission will convene to discuss procedures for handling the case.

Some key issues that could affect the outcomes of the city and court processes involve what Mirkarimi actually did – as opposed to what others have suggested he did. The whole thing may hinge on whether the sheriff did anything to hinder the domestic violence investigation, what his plea deal to official misconduct entailed – and whether the mayor made efforts to differentiate between fact and rumor.  

But let’s start at the beginning, just before lunchtime on New Year’s Eve, with a story that Mirkarimi told in great detail as we peppered him with questions seeking details on what happened, what his motivations and thoughts were at critical junctures, and what it all meant.

Around 11:45 am on Dec. 31, Mirkarimi, Lopez, and their nearly three-year-old son, Theo, got into their red 1998 Dodge Caravan to go to lunch at Delfina Pizzeria. Just before leaving their house on Webster Street, the couple had started talking about how Lopez wanted to take Theo on a trip to her native Venezuela to visit her father, who is battling cancer.

“It was not an unfamiliar topic,” Mirkarimi said, recounting how it had become an issue of increasing concern by him after her three previous trips had each been extended. They had been having marital problems, and he told us he was concerned that she might not come back – or that Theo could be at risk of kidnapping.

“We didn’t have a plan and there was no permission,” Mirkarimi said, with “permission” meaning his written permission to take their son out of the country, which he had learned from a lawyer was required. “The body of our quarrel on Dec. 31 is we need a plan.”

But Lopez told him in the car than she had also talked to an attorney and she contested that it was as clear-cut as Mirkarimi claimed. He later learned that the “attorney” Lopez was referring to was their neighbor, Ivory Madison, a writer who had attended law school and noted her “legal training” on the www.redroom.com website she ran with her husband, lawyer Abraham Mertens. But Madison hadn’t taken the bar exam and wasn’t licensed to practice law in California.

“This was a sucker punch, it really walloped me,” Mirkarimi said of the news that Lopez was speaking with an attorney, and it made him angry. “I was acting inappropriately, I swore at my wife and said ‘where is this coming from?’ So I could have handled it better.”

“I decided, because we were quarreling, to make the unilateral decision against Eliana’s wishes to turn the car around,” he said.

This, he contends, was the act that constituted false imprisonment, the misdemeanor charge that he pled guilty to last month in exchange for prosecutors dropping misdemeanor charges of domestic violence, dissuading a witness, and child endangerment. Mirkarimi contends this was the only point in their conflict in which he restrained his wife’s freedom. Other reports suggest that he didn’t let her leave the house shortly after the conflict, which he denies.

Mirkarimi’s criminal attorney, Lidia Stiglich, told us false imprisonment is a very broad term, and because it was such low-level charge, there wasn’t a specific action it covered. In other words there’s nothing factual in the legal record or anywhere supporting the notion that Mirkarimi actually held his wife against her will.

“You don’t need to agree to a factual basis to plead to a misdemeanor,” Stiglich said, noting that Mirkarimi’s interpretation is reasonable, but prosecutors might mean something different by it. “We can agree to disagree,” she said, although she acknowledges that vagueness has opened him up to a variety of interpretations in the political arena.

In other words, the notion that a sheriff, who oversees the jails, has pled guilty of false imprisonment looks just terrible, and has been been played up in the press. But it’s not clear that he actually imprisoned anyone, beyond refusing to take his wife and son to lunch. It’s an oddity of law, and the nuance doesn’t play well in a scandal-crazed media.  

But back to the day of the incident.

“I was loud, I was gruff, I was just pissed off, and I am ashamed of my behavior,” Mirkarimi said. By the time they got back home, the sheriff-elect had calmed down, but Lopez was getting increasingly angry at being mistreated.

He said she quickly got out of the car and was brusquely trying to remove Theo, who was crying and upset over his parents’ conflict, from his car seat. “I got scared because Theo was in danger a little bit,” he said, his voice choking up and eyes filled with tears, saying that he reached back and grabbed Lopez’s right arm, with three fingers under her arm, while he was still seatbelted into the front seat.

“Eliana reacted like, get away from me, and she tugged her arm,” he said. “The incident was minutes.”

Inside the house, tensions quickly de-escalated, he said, and they didn’t discuss the conflict again that day. They went grocery shopping together, brought home takeout for dinner, and Lopez went out briefly that night while Mirkarimi stayed home with their son.

But the next morning, she showed him the bruise that had formed on her right bicep where he grabbed her. “She said, ‘Look,’ and it just crushed me,” Mirkarimi said, adding that he apologized for hurting her and that he agreed to go to couples counseling.

Lopez had been asking her husband to seek counseling for some time, he acknowledged, and he’d been putting it off. “I take full blame that that didn’t happen earlier,” he said.

Then, mid-morning, Lopez told him that she was going to talk with their neighbors, Madison and Mertens, who Mirkarimi considered “nice people. They were supporters during my race, but I didn’t know them that well.” He said that he didn’t think much of it or worry that she might talk about the previous day’s incident, although he said he did make the connection after she left that perhaps this was the “lawyer” Lopez has referred to the day before – something she later confirmed.

From Mirkarimi’s perspective, the next few days were uneventful. The family left for a long-planned vacation to Monterey the next day, staying at the Intercontinental Hotel and taking Theo to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He said they talked “a little” about their New Year’s Eve conflict. “We were trying to gauge each other and our comfort level in talking about this,” he said. 

But Mirkarimi didn’t know about the storm that was brewing. He said he had no idea that Lopez had heeded Madison’s suggestion on Jan. 1 to make a video in which Lopez tearfully recounted the grabbing incident and displayed her bruise. Lopez, a former Venezuelan soap opera star, has consistently denied publicly that Mirkarimi ever abused her and has said, directly and through attorney Paula Canny, that the video was intended solely to be used in child custody proceedings if their marriage continued to devolve and that Lopez assumed she was getting legal advice and that the communications were private and subject to attorney-client privilege.

But Madison, who has not returned calls from the Guardian or other media outlets, wrestled with whether to go to the police and sought counsel on the question from several people, as information obtained by Mirkarimi’s team during discovery showed, including Phil Bronstein, the former editor for the Examiner and Chronicle who now chairs the board of the Center for Investigation and Bay Citizen.

Madison had two phone conversations with Bronstein, the veteran journalist told us. He said he knew Madison socially and “she gave me a brief narrative of the events.

“I said you should do whatever you think you should do to keep Eliana safe,” Bronstein told us.

Bronstein said he doesn’t know what happened between Mirkarimi and Lopez, but he understood from Madison that she was acting on behalf of Lopez, that the two women were communicating by text and e-mail, and that “I got the impression that Eliana was still trying to figure out what she wanted to do.”

“Eliana was continuing to e-mail with Ivory, saying he was being nicer now,” Bronstein said, but Madison was still concerned enough that she didn’t want to let the incident go, so Bronstein said she decided to call the San Francisco Police Department on Jan. 4 to get information on whether domestic violence incidents could be reported several days after they occurred, a decision he learned about after the fact.

“Ivory called the police hotline hypothetically to get information on when they can file,” Bronstein said, recounting a phone conversation they had on the afternoon of Jan. 4. But he said Madison was told by police that she could be charged with obstruction of justice for not reporting a crime – which isn’t exactly true under California law – and that SFPD had sent officers to her house to discuss the matter.

Shortly after that visit from police, Madison called Bronstein to tell him the story. “She was surprised that an inquiry had triggered a police investigation,” Bronstein said. Madison’s initial refusal to turn the videotape over to police, who needed a court order to seize it, is another indication that perhaps she didn’t want this case to explode the way it did.

In one version of events that Bronstein has discussed, Madison told him she wanted to help Lopez get in touch with three people who might be able to talk to Mirkarimi and convince him to seek counseling. Madison asked Bronstein if he had phone numbers for Aaron Peskin, Mike Hennessey and Art Agnos.

The odd thing about that is that Lopez already knew the three, and that their contact information was in the couple’s house.

But Mirkarimi had no idea any of this was going on, or even that his wife had discussed their conflict with Madison and made the videotape. “Everything happened on the 4th of January and literally I was the last one to know,” Mirkarimi told us.

Months later, Mertens wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle (“A neighbor’s side of Ross Mirkarimi case,” 3/20) in which he alleges Mirkarimi “paid a team of lawyers to relentlessly attempt to discredit, dissuade, and harm my wife,” although he didn’t return Guardian calls seeking comment or clarification of what he meant.

“The last time I spoke to Eliana was when she called me on Jan. 4. I recognized what I thought was Ross’ voice in the background as Eliana pressured me to destroy evidence and lie to the police. Then she repeatedly called Ivory, demanding that Ivory destroy the video, e-mail and texts from Eliana about the incident,” Mertens wrote. The allegation was parroted in the city’s official misconduct charges against Mirkarimi, which claim he “or his agents” sought to destroy evidence and obstruct the investigation.

But Mirkarimi and his lawyers say the charge is simply untrue. “The idea that he sought to get the videotape back or destroy it is nonsense,” Waggoner said, noting that Mirkarimi wasn’t even home as these events unfolded – on that fateful January day, he attended a ceremony marking the demolition of the old jail and then was in a long Budget Committee meeting, followed by a farewell celebration from the Local Agency Formation Commission. In other words, he couldn’t have been “in the background” during that call.

In fact, as far as we can tell, there is no evidence anywhere that Mirkarimi ever contacted Madison or Mertens. “I never talked to Ivory Madison and I never talked to her husband, Abraham Mertens, after any of this happened,” Mirkarimi said.

Mirkarimi said that Lopez first told him that she had told Madison about the grabbing incident by phone on the afternoon of Jan. 4, shortly after Madison told her in the street that she had called the police and they were on the way. Lopez didn’t know what to do and wanted to come meet her husband near City Hall. The officers that came tried to talk to Lopez, but she refused.

“She was panicked because she thought things were getting out of control with this neighbor and she asked for my recommendation,” Mirkarimi said, noting that Lopez literally ran from their home to City Hall and met Mirkarimi outside on Grove Street. It was then, he said, that Lopez first told Mirkarimi about making the videotape.

Mirkarimi said he greeted the news with stunned disbelief, and that his first instinct was to try to help his panic-stricken wife, but that he didn’t know what to do. “She was petrified about what was going on…She was frantic and I was getting frantic too,” he said. “I didn’t have a remedy, except oh my God, I think we need an attorney.”

They made a couple calls to find an attorney, and he said Lopez had the idea of having their friend, Linnette Peralta Haynes, a domestic violence advocate with the Our Family Coalition, reach out to Madison about why she had gone to police and what could be done at that point. “I had no idea what they were going to talk about,” Mirkarimi claims. Peralta Haynes didn’t return our calls and she is reportedly being sought as a witness by the City Attorney’s Office in the official misconduct proceedings.

Mirkarimi is adamant that he never did anything to gain possession of the videotape, dissuade his wife or any other witnesses from talking to police or prosecutors, or otherwise interfere with the investigation, even though Lopez was appealing to him to do something.

“She really wanted me to stop it, and I was like, dear, this bell has already rung and I don’t think we can unring it,” Mirkarimi said.

Lopez has said publicly that she felt betrayed by Madison, and Canny filed motions to suppress the video on the grounds of attorney-client privilege, conflicts that seem to have soured the relationship between the two women and fed feelings by Mertens that Madison was wronged for doing the right thing during the media circus that followed.

As a result, as part of Mirkarimi’s plea deal last month, the District Attorney’s Office insisted that Mirkarimi publicly apologize to Madison. It was an odd demand, since nobody (other than an op-ed writer in the Chron who gave no substantiation for his charges) had ever said that Mirkarimi had any contact at all with Madison.

DA’s spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman explained the insistence to us this way: “Ivory Madison’s actions were courageous. She found herself in a difficult situation trying to protect a friend who was in danger. In a surprising and disappointing turn, she was vilified for this act of courage. She suffered much unnecessary public scrutiny.”

Stillman wouldn’t deviate from that prepared statement when we asked specifically what Mirkarimi had done to Madison – or if there was any indication that the sheriff had ever done anything to “vilify” her – but she did said that the insistence on that direct apology was about encouraging witnesses of domestic violence, an underreported crime, to come forward. “We didn’t want other witnesses to be discouraged from reporting crimes after seeing what Ivory Madison went through,” she said.

Yet Stiglich said Canny’s motions and the divisions that developed between Lopez and Madison had nothing to do with Mirkarimi: “There were lot of actions taken by Eliana’s lawyers that caused a backlash that affected Ross.”

It’s not a minor issue: The allegation that Mirkarimi attempted to dissuade witnesses and used his official position to gain advantage is central to the mayor’s formal misconduct charges. But Mirkarimi and Stiglich maintain that there is nothing in the public record that supports the charge that he dissuaded witnesses or that he used his position as sheriff to gain advantage either before or after the incident.

“I was very surprised to see the allegation from the Mayor’s Office about dissuasion [of witnesses or interfering with the investigation] because there was no evidence of that,” Stiglich said. “He was the last person to know there was a video and that police were involved.”

It appears that Mirkarimi thought his guilty plea would end the case – and it was crafted not to give the mayor any grounds for removal. “I would not have entered a plea in a way that would inhibit my ability to be sheriff,” Mirkarimi said. “This was a very lucid conversation.”

In fact, he said, his instinct was to fight the charges all the way. “We were dying to go to trial,” Mirkarimi said.

But the cops and the DA’s Office did an excellent job of creating pre-trial publicity that made it almost impossible for Mirkarimi to get an impartial jury pool. Jury surveys showed that more than 70 percent of the potential jurors had already formed a negative opinion about Mirkarimi based on news coverage, he said.  

He has belatedly sought to address other oft-repeated misimpressions, disputing telling his wife that he would get custody because “I am a powerful man” (he says he told her the U.S. has powerful child custody laws) and saying journalists have distorted his comment that the conflict was “a private matter.”

In a charge that will be central to the upcoming legal battles, Mirkarimi and his attorneys say Mayor Lee wasn’t interested in hearing from Mirkarimi or discovering the truth about what happened before deciding to suspend Mirkarimi without pay and bring official misconduct charges against him. That, they say, denied the elected sheriff his due-process rights.

In his sworn affidavit in the case, Lee characterized his March 19 meeting with Mirkarimi – which he began by asking Mirkarimi to resign within 24 hours or be suspended – this way: “I explained to Sheriff Mirkarimi that I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk to me about this issue. It was a free flowing conversation with no time constraints. Sheriff Mirkarimi told me that he has not yet told his side of the story. I said, Okay, and waited for him to tell me his side of the story. He did not. Instead, after pausing, he asked me whether the suspension was based on his conduct as Sheriff. I responded that it was based on his conduct as a public official. I paused again and waited for Sheriff Mirkarimi to give me whatever information he thought important. He did not. Instead, Sheriff Mirkarimi asked me whether the suspension would be with or without pay. I told him it would be without pay. After giving him another chance to ask questions or give more information, I told Mr. Mirkarimi to consider my instruction to resign over the next 24 hours.”

But Mirkarimi said that narrative isn’t accurate or complete. He had sought to talk with Lee the previous week to explain what happened, but Lee refused. And when he showed up to talk to Lee on the March 19, he brought Sheriff’s Department legal counsel Freya Horne with him and asked that she be included in the conversation, but Lee refused, so there were no witnesses to the conversation.

“I went into that meeting with the express purpose to tell the mayor everything…As soon as I walk in the door, he gives me a little bit of preamble and then asks me to resign,”Mirkarimi said. “I said I’d really like you to talk to Eliana, can I give you her phone number? Nothing…I was asking questions and I wasn’t getting answers.”

Asked why he didn’t just start telling the full story, as Lee’s narrative indicates he was ready to hear, Mirkarimi insists that Lee simply informed him of the decision he had made and didn’t want to hear anything else. “He wanted the meeting to end after a minute, and I dragged it out by asking questions,” Mirkarimi said of the 15-minute meeting. Asked why he didn’t take a more forceful position, insisting on Horne being there or telling his full story, Mirkarimi said, “I’m the guy who’s trying to be contrite, not the one to walk in there with muscle.”

But now that those lines have been drawn, Mirkarimi says he intends to mount a vigorous defense, and he has some serious muscle on his legal team, including Waggoner and Shepard Kopp, who has worked on a variety of high profile cases.

Waggoner said the mayor’s affidavit, which he made under penalty of perjury, “is not truthful,” noting the inconsistency between telling Mirkarimi that he had made a decision to suspend him and saying he wanted to hear his side of story.

“That claim is undermined by his statements after when he describes how the meeting went down,” Waggoner said, saying he’s hopeful that the courts will agree that Lee acted inappropriately. “All that language undermines his initial claim that the purpose of the meeting was to gather information.”

That’s a central question: Did the mayor give the sheriff a chance to defend himself before making the highly unusual decision to suspend him? Or did Lee base that decision on evidence (like Mertens’ opinion piece) that lacked substantiation without giving Mirkarimi a chance to rebut it?

In other words, was Lee’s decision already made when he met with Mirkarimi? And if so, did the city’s chief executive deny another elected official the basic legal right to a fair hearing?

That’s what the courts will address.

Then if the case moves forward, the Ethics Commission will hold hearings –and again, Mirkarimi is at a disadvantage. The Mayor’s Office, through the city attorney, is already sending subpoenas to witnesses and preparing testimony. The defense can’t do that – because there are, at this point, no rules of evidence, no rights for the defense to compel testimony and, frankly, nothing for Mirkarimi’s lawyers to go on.

Four of the five members of the Ethics Commission are lawyers. At some point, they’re going to have to find a way to make this case comply to the rule of law.

Mirkarimi claims Lee didn’t care what really happened


UPDATED BELOW Did Mayor Ed Lee ask Ross Mirkarimi what really happened in the conflict with his wife before removing him as sheriff? That question is not only important to understanding Lee and whether he was interested in the truth, but it could also be central to next week’s court hearing on whether Mirkarimi was denied due process before being suspended without pay.

In an interview published today in the New York Times, and in statements made today to the Guardian, Mirkarimi maintains that he sought to tell Lee the full story but that the mayor wasn’t interested. “He was clear that he was not interested in events or details, which were represented by me, even when I encouraged him,” Mirkarimi told The Bay Citizen, whose content the Times runs. “It was more than one occasion I offered to tell him my side of the story. If I had, it could have dramatically changed the mayor’s understanding of the situation.”

Yet the affidavit by Lee that was submitted to the court this week – which is written under penalty of perjury – paints a very different picture: one of the two men sitting in uncomfortable silence rather than Mirkarimi seizing the chance to shape Lee’s understanding of the situation.

“I asked Sheriff Mirkarimi to meet with me, because I felt that I needed to hear from him and consider what he had to say,” Lee wrote of the March 19 meeting where he gave Mirkarimi 24 hours to resign or be suspended, noting that he had reviewed the court records and “it appeared to me that he had engaged in official misconduct.”

“I explained to Sheriff Mirkarimi that I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk to me about this issue. It was a free flowing conversation with no time constraints. Sheriff Mirkarimi told me that he has not yet told his side of the story. I said, Okay, and waited for him to tell me his side of the story. He did not. Instead, after pausing, he asked me whether the suspension was based on his conduct as Sheriff. I responded that it was based on his conduct as a public official. I paused again and waited for Sheriff Mirkarimi to give me whatever information he thought important. He did not. Instead, Sheriff Mirkarimi asked me whether the suspension would be with or without pay. I told him it would be without pay. After giving him another chance to ask questions or give more information, I told Mr. Mirkarimi to consider my instruction to resign over the next 24 hours,” Lee wrote.

In an exchange of text messages with the Guardian, Mirkarimi maintains that Lee wasn’t interested in hearing from him or his wife, Eliana Lopez, what happened during the New Year’s Eve altercation or in its aftermath.

“On more than one occasion I offered details to Lee. He was either mute or changed the subject. Think about it – why else would they have DHR Miki Callahan [the city’s deputy human resources director] try to depose me after I was suspended without pay – they shoot first, then realize they better ask questions,” Mirkarimi wrote.

We asked why he didn’t use the opportunity of his meeting with Lee to tell his story.

“As I said, I did try. More than once. He wasn’t interested. In fact I told him how painful it’s been to not have contact [with Lopez, whom the court has barred him from contacting] since January 13, and encouraged him to get an independent account from my wife, Eliana; offered her phone number. Lee didn’t take it,” Mirkarimi said.

Paula Canny, Lopez’s attorney, has also said that Lee never tried to reach her and didn’t seem interested in what really happened. But the city’s official misconduct complaint makes a number of unsubstantiated allegations about that incident and what happened since that Mirkarimi and Lopez deny.

For example, the complaint claims that Mirkarimi “or his agents” asked Ivory Madison, the neighbor who helped Lopez make a videotape of her showing a bruise on her arm inflicted by Mirkarimi, to “destroy evidence,” a charge her husband, Abraham Mertens, made in a Chronicle op-ed. But in her own subsequent op-ed, Lopez says that wasn’t true and that Mirkarimi wasn’t even aware of the existence of the tape until after Madison had called the police and told them about it.

In the Times article, Mirkarimi also disputed another key allegation from the formal charges against him: “Sheriff Mirkarimi misused his office, and the status and authority it carries, for personal advantage when he stated to Ms. Lopez that he could win custody of their child because he was very powerful.”

That allegation also came from Madison, who hasn’t responded to calls from the Guardian, the Times, or other media outlets. But Mirkarimi told the Times that what he really told his wife was that California has “powerful” child custody laws that would make it difficult for her to take their son back to Venezuela if they divorced.

“I never said, ever, that I’m a powerful person,” he said. “It’s not even my style. I was quoting in the context of what had been a very familiar and painful reminder that, six months earlier, Eliana had been out of the country with Theo for two and a half months. I was referencing family law.”

Other news broken in the Times story was Mirkarimi disputing that he called the case a “private matter, a family matter,” saying that statement that so outraged domestic violence groups was “distorted by the press.” The article also quotes journalist Phil Bronstein minimizing the phone conversation he had with Madison before she decided to report the Mirkarimi-Lopez incident to the police, saying he only helped Madison contact “three people who Ross was close to” for reasons that weren’t clear. Bronstein, who hasn’t returned our calls on the issue [SEE UPDATE BELOW], was on the witness list for Mirkarimi’s domestic violence trial before Mirkarimi pled guilty to the lesser charge of false imprisonment.

The City Attorney’s Office isn’t commenting on the case, and when we asked the mayor’s Press Secretary Christine Falvey why Lee didn’t seek an account of what happened from Lopez or Mirkarimi, she told us simply, “The Mayor met with Ross Mirkarimi twice to discuss this.”

In the city’s response to Mirkarimi’s lawsuit seeking reinstatement of his pay and position until the official conduct hearings are resolved, which will be heard in Superior Court on April 20, they claim, “The Mayor met personally with Petitioner to discuss his intentions and has repeatedly invited Petitioner to tell his side of the story, an invitation Petitioner has repeatedly declined. But even more fundamentally, the due process claim fails as a matter of law. The constitutional right to due process is triggered only when the government works a deprivation of a legally recognized liberty or property interest.”

The city says caselaw is clear that elected officials can’t claim their office belongs to them. “A public office is always a public trust,” the city argues. But Mirkarimi’s attorneys say all employees have a clear property interest in their salaries, and they say it was illegal, coercive, and unfair to deprive Mirkarimi of his while he goes through the months-long official misconduct process. Police officers are almost always paid during their suspensions.

UPDATE 4/16: The message that I left for Bronstein seeking to speak with him about his conversation with Madison was nearly two weeks ago, and he called to take issue with my statement that he didn’t call back and with my characterization that he “minimized” his conversation with Madison in the New York Times article, although he did characterize their conversation as brief and fairly insignificant.

“Ivory Madison called me to say there were three people that Ross trusts and Eliana might want to get ahold of them, do you have their contact information, and I said I could probably get it,” Bronstein told us, noting that he never contacted any of them on her behalf. Sources tell us the three people were Aaron Peskin, Art Agnos, and Michael Hennessey. “No one was contacted, no information was passed, that was the extent of the conversation.”

Bronstein left those comments in a voicemail. I’m still waiting to talk to him about whether the conversation included talk of the incident and whether police should be involved, and I’ll update this post when I hear back.

Brown says Lee shouldn’t have taken Mirkarimi’s pay away


As Mayor Ed Lee continues to duck questions about why he suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi without pay or due process, even former Mayor Willie Brown – who helped elevate Lee into Room 200 – is second-guessing the decision and its legality.

In his Willie’s World column in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, entitled “Ross Mirkarimi needs cash in struggle to keep his job,” Brown wrote, “And on the salary point, I agree with Mirkarimi: He should not be suspended without pay. He should continue to get paid unless and until he ultimately is found guilty of misconduct by the Board of Supervisors.”

The issue isn’t just one of fairness or of Lee trying to coerce Mirkarimi into resigning to avoid city hearings that will determine whether grabbing his wife’s arm during a New Year’s Eve conflict constitutes official misconduct, as Lee charges. It’s also a specific legal issue, particularly to lawyers like Brown.

Mirkarimi’s attorney, David Waggoner, said it’s not surprising to see Brown publicly undercutting the mayor on this issue. “He’s simply stating what the applicable law is on the subject,” Waggoner told us. In this case, it was the Supreme Court, hearing the case Skelly v. State Personnel Board in 1975, that said an executive can’t just unilaterally take away someone’s livelihood.

“If you’re going to fire public employees, you have to give them notice, you have to let them respond, you need to observe due process,” Waggoner said.

That’s one of three causes of action that Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn will consider in a hearing set for April 18 at 9:30 am, where Mirkarimi is asking the courts to reinstate him and restore his salary pending hearings before the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors that could take months.

Given the pressure being applied by anti-domestic violence groups and many mainstream media voices, Lee may have felt like he had to remove Mirkarimi and that he could just blame supervisors or the process if it didn’t work. But if the courts find Lee acted illegally while attempting to put supervisors in such an untenable position, it could be a serious blow to Lee’s reputation and governing authority.

UPDATE 5 PM: I also placed a call on the issue to former Mayor Art Agnos, who just back to me and he agreed that Lee acted in a way that was unfair and probably illegal. “I think it’s heavy-handed,” said Agnos, who has been supporting Mirkarimi through the ordeal.

Agnos noted that former Sheriff Richard Hongisto served several days in jail for contempt of court for refusing to carry out the evictions of International Hotel tenants, and he never had his pay docked or faced official misconduct charges. “And here, we see the sheriff being charged with something that occurred before he even took office, and it’s a low-grade misdemeanor that he accepted a plea deal on.”

According to Agnos, Mirkarimi told him that during his brief conversation with the mayor, he offered to tell his side of the story and have Lee talk to his wife, Eliana Lopez, as well, but the mayor wasn’t interested. “When you’re the mayor, you like to hear both sides before making a decision,” Agnos said. “But Lee wasn’t interested.”

Mirkarimi case: Eliana Lopez friend and defender Myrna Melgar responds to critics


My opinion piece regarding the plight of my friend Eliana Lopez and San Francisco’s approach to handling domestic violence in her case has generated a lot of discussion since it was printed last week. I have heard from a lot of folks who tell me that it has challenged their assumptions about the particular situation but also about the unintended outcomes of handling all domestic violence through the criminal justice system. It has also generated quite a bit of defensiveness from some anti-domestic violence advocates, who have suggested that questioning their methods is an attack on their goals – it is not, and people who dedicate themselves to helping victims of domestic violence have my very highest respect and admiration.

So allow me elaborate that a little further on that point:

No one is advocating for the return to the bad old days when we looked away from the abuse of women. I am pointing out that for many, having the police automatically open a criminal investigation, regardless of the nature of the problem, which is then followed by prosecution, is a strong deterrent to seeking help.  Defining progress by rates of conviction while we know that more than half of domestic abuse incidents go unreported suggests that something in our approach is not working. 

Domestic violence seldom begins with a murder. It usually begins with the putdowns, the sarcasm, the psychological and emotional abuse, and then, often, to escalating levels of physical abuse. Of course, not every guy who makes sarcastic remarks will eventually hit his girlfriend. Instead of opening a criminal case when the first call comes in from an affected party or a well-meaning neighbor, how about we create a support system within mental health and family support that has a trained health professionals who can answer questions and guide a path to rehabilitation?  

San Francisco has led the way in showing the country how an integrated, public health-oriented healthcare system, community rooted and accessible to all, ought to be run.  We have the technology already to share data among health care professionals that can be immediately transferred to criminal justice professionals when needed.  A system that has only one gear — criminal prosecution — that treats women as children, robs them of their voice and their rights, and renders them incapable of making their own decisions at the slightest evidence or even accusation of abuse is a system that needs to evolve.  We can do better. We need to stop domestic violence while at the same time working towards equal rights and the empowerment of all women individually and as a whole. Those two things must never be mutually exclusive goals.

Despite the strong reactions my opinion has generated in the past week among people who defend the current system, no one has addressed the problem that the zero-tolerance criminalization approach has created in communities where there is fear of the police. It seems that everyone wants to talk about Eliana Lopez, mostly as an appendage of Ross Mirkarimi, but the many women facing this issue remain seemingly invisible in this conversation, their fears and issues unaddressed.  I have heard from immigrants’ rights advocates that they have been voicing these concerns for years, and have gotten nowhere within the domestic violence community. We can do better.

In her essay on March 29 in the Huffington Post, Andrea Shorter of the Commission on the Status of Women explains that the current system for dealing with domestic violence came about as the implementation of 84 recommendations by a group of advocates in response to the gruesome 2000 murder of an Asian immigrant woman at the hands of her boyfriend. In the past 12 years, great progress has been made in reducing domestic violence related homicide rates, both in San Francisco and across the country.

But 12 years is a long time, and a critical look at the system that we have created is needed. It’s important to note that immigrant women are still overrepresented in the domestic-violence homicide statistics in San Francisco. We can do better. We need a system that is both capable of responding quickly and decisively to cases where women’s security or lives are at stake, but of also handling the far more numerous and ambiguous cases in which domestic troubles have not reached that point, but in which families need help to make sure that they do not.

Finally, I feel I must address a couple of the specific accusations that have been made that are just not true. I have never worked for Ross Mirkarimi. I didn’t even contribute to his campaign. (It is, after all, possible for a woman to have an opinion independent of a man’s agenda). I care about my friend Eliana, and the issue of domestic violence. My interest was in addressing what I saw as an thoughtless reaction both by our government and much of our media, which produced results that were needlessly cruel and counter-productive to the people directly involved, and that also, ironically given the supposed purpose of the whole exercise, sent a bad message on how to respond to domestic violence.

Another perspective on the Mirkarimi case


We have an interesting opinon piece in this week’s paper by a close friend of Eliana Lopez, the wife of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. It gives a very different perspective on the situation than we’ve seen in the media so far. You can read it here.

Elevating the issue


The Mirkarimi saga and the troubling prevalence of domestic violence are disturbing. But if there’s a bright side, it’s that advocacy groups, including La Casa de Las Madres, the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, and SF National Organization of Women (NOW) have been able to use the incident to raise awareness about domestic violence. Now, they may be affecting city policy.

Upset by Mirkarimi’s infamous comment that the incident was a “private matter, a family matter,” La Casa de Las Madres has funded several billboards in English and Spanish declaring that “domestic violence is NEVER a private matter” and directing the public to domestic violence response services.

For some, the next step is to permanently codify a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence by law enforcement officers.

In 2003, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote a model policy on this topic that has been adopted in some California counties. NOW SF Chair Mona Lisa Wallace told us that several feminist and anti-domestic violence nonprofits are currently in talks with the mayor and SFPD about adopting it in San Francisco.

“We want domestic violence victims to trust that the officers in blue are on their side,” said Wallace.

The policy states that “Any officer convicted through criminal proceedings of a domestic violence crime shall be terminated from the department.”

Had the policy been in place already, Mirkarimi likely would not have pled guilty, since it would have automatically cost him his job. It also states: “If the facts of the case indicate that domestic violence has occurred or any department policies have been violated, administrative action shall be taken independent of any criminal proceedings as soon as practicable. “

That clause would involve the discretion of police chiefs, commissioners, and the sheriff. It would be hard to apply it to the sheriff, who is an elected official who reports to nobody.

The policy also makes clear that “Any officer determined through an administrative investigation to have committed domestic violence shall be terminated from the department.”

When police are charged with crimes, they go through administrative hearing investigation. They are first “tried” by the police chief, and then, if need be, the Police Commission. These administrative investigations can lead to dismissal, though they don’t in the majority of cases.

If the policy was in place, and an administrative investigation found that a police officer had engaged in domestic violence, the commission members would have no discretion: they would be obliged to terminate the officer.

In Mirkarimi’s case, an “administration investigation,” as required under the policy, would likely look very much like the procedure he is already undergoing. It’s unlikely that it would have made the process any less drawn-out or consuming of public money, attention, and resources. But, if adopted, the policy would represent a broader city stance on domestic violence beyond terminating Mirkarimi. It includes procedures for screening police candidates with histories of abuse and working with police to prevent them from committing violent crimes.

Sorting through scandal



>>Read the Guardian Op-Ed by Eliana Lopez’s friend Myrna Melgar here.

On March 20, Mayor Ed Lee announced his decision to suspend and seek the removal of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, taking the city into complex and uncharted legal and political territory. He did so with little explanation in a statement lasting two minutes. Then he went and hid.

Over the past week, the mayor has refused to expound on the reasoning behind his decision, won’t answer questions from reporters, and has held no public events where he might face the news media.

But he’s set off the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb, forcing the supervisors to take on a no-win situation in an election year and leaving the City Attorney’s Office, the Ethics Commission, and Mirkarimi’s lawyers scrambling to figure out how this will all play out.

At issue is whether Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge — and his actions since the New Year’s Eve conflict with his wife, Eliana Lopez, that led to the three domestic violence charges that he originally faced — warrant his immediate removal from office without pay pending hearings that could take months. Mirkarimi, the mayor alleges, violated official misconduct standards written into the City Charter with little discussion in 1995, broad language that has yet to be interpreted by a court.

Mirkarimi and his new attorney, David Waggoner, responded March 27 by filing a court petition challenging that language — “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers” — as unconstitutionally vague and arguing Lee abused his mayoral discretion in suspending Mirkarimi and violated his due process rights by taking away his livelihood without a hearing. They are asking the court to order Mirkarimi’s reinstatement, or at least the restoration of his salary, until the long city process determines his fate.

“It makes it more difficult for the sheriff to fight these charges when he’s suspended without pay,” Waggoner told us.

To those who have been calling for Mirkarimi’s removal for the last few months, the case seems simple: Mirkarimi grabbed Lopez’s arm with enough force to leave a bruise, police and prosecutors got a video the neighbor made of the wife tearfully telling the story, and Mirkarimi tried to quell the controversy by calling it a “private matter” — infuriating anti-domestic-violence advocates who have spent decades trying to explain that DV is a crime, not a family issue. The sheriff ended up pleading guilty to a related charge.

That, many say, is plenty of reason to remove him from office: How can a top law-enforcement official do his job when he’s been convicted of a crime for which advocates say there should be zero tolerance? How can a man who runs the jails have any credibility when he’s pled guilty to false imprisonment?

“He has chosen not to resign and now I must act,” Lee said at a press conference he held shortly after the 24-hour deadline he gave Mirkarimi to resign or be removed.

But like everything in this politically fractured and passionate city, it’s a lot more complicated.


Lopez and her attorneys have consistently maintained that Mirkarimi was not abusive, that the video was created solely in case their deteriorating marriage devolved into a child custody battle, and that it was not an accurate description of what happened that day, suggesting the former Venezuelan soap opera star was telling a particular kind of story.

The Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle (“Mirkarimi’s argument with wife detailed,” March 25) have pieced together some of what happened. Sources say the couple argued in the car on the way to lunch at Delfina Pizzeria about whether Lopez would take their nearly three-year-old son, who was sitting in the backseat, with her to Venezuela.

The couple had been having marital problems and Mirkarimi, worried that she might not return or that their son could be kidnapped for ransom, got angry. As the argument escalated, Mirkarimi decided to take the family home. On the way, Mirkarimi told her that he had spoken to a lawyer and learned that she needed written permission from him to take their son out of the country and that he wouldn’t do so.

That made Lopez angry and she got out of the car and tried to unfasten their son to leave when Mirkarimi grabbed her right arm, leaving a bruise that was clear in the videotape but which wasn’t visible a week later when she wore a sleeveless dress to Mirkarimi’s swearing in ceremony for sheriff.

That’s the couple’s version of events, anyway. There are no witnesses who can verify or dispute it.

Lee never called Lopez or her attorney to hear this story before deciding to remove him from office. But in the official charges he filed against Mirkarimi, Lee alleges “acts of verbal and physical abuse against his wife” and that he “restrained Ms. Lopez and violated her personal liberty,” plus unproven allegations that he was never charged with, including encouraging neighbors to destroy evidence, and of hurting morale in the Sheriff’s Department (based on a newspaper quote from a political opponent).

You don’t have to defend Mirkarimi’s conduct or belittle the serious crime of domestic violence — in fact, you don’t have to believe anything the sheriff or his wife have said — to ask a few basic questions. Is this extraordinary executive power warranted in this case? What harm would come from waiting for a recall election, the usual method of removing elected officials after a scandal? Why did Lee give Mirkarimi 24 hours to resign and did he offer anything as incentive (sources tell us he offered another city job)? Will he release the City Attorney’s Office advice memo, and if not, why?

The Guardian submitted those and many other questions to Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey, who said she would answer them by March 23, but then sent us this message at the end of that day before going on vacation: “After looking at your questions, it seems Mayor Lee addressed much of this in his comments on Tuesday. After Sheriff Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a crime of false imprisonment, Mayor Lee made a thorough review of the facts, reviewed his duties under the Charter and gave the Sheriff an opportunity to resign. When that did not happen, he moved to suspend the Sheriff.”

Very few progressives have stood up publicly and taken Mirkarimi’s side. One of them is Debra Walker, a longtime activist and city commissioner.

“This is about McCarthyism at this point, and not domestic violence,” Walker told us. “Instead of helping [Lopez], they have succeeded in breaking this family apart. It’s just bullying. It was always aimed at Ross stepping down and removing him as sheriff.”


So what happens next? It is, to say the least, unclear.

The last time a public official was charged with misconduct was in the 1970s, when Joe Mazzola, an official with the Plumbers Union, was removed from the Airport Commission because he refused to order striking plumbers back to work. The state Court of Appeal later overturned that decision, ruling that “official misconduct” had to be narrowly construed to be conduct directly related to the performance of official duties (a case Waggoner relies on in his petition).

But the City Charter has changed since then, and now allows removal for the vague charge of “conduct that falls below the standard of decency and good faith and right action impliedly required by all public officers.” That phrase gives extraordinary power to the mayor — and, given some of the conduct we’ve seen at City Hall over the years, could have been used to remove a long list of city officials.

The Charter states that Mirkarimi, as the accused, will get a hearing before the Ethics Commission, and that he can be represented by counsel. It’s silent on the question of what form that hearing will take, what the rules of evidence will be, what witnesses will be allowed, and what rights the defendant will have.

Four of the five Ethics Commission members are practicing attorneys, and before they can call a hearing, they’ll have to hold a meeting to discuss the rules.

In the case of former Sup. Ed Jew, who was accused of falsifying his address, Ethics was prepared to take only written testimony (Jew resigned before any hearing, partially to deal with more serious federal charges of shaking down constituents for bribes). But that’s not a hard and fast rule — this time, the panel could decide to allow both sides to present witnesses.

If the commission decides to allow evidence, someone will have to rule on what evidence can be presented and what can’t. Will that be the commission chair, Benjamin Hur, or the commission as a whole?

The answer is: Nobody knows for sure. Hur told us he couldn’t comment on anything related to the case; the City Attorney’s Office won’t comment, either, since the office is representing both the mayor (on the prosecution side) and the supervisors and the Ethics Commission, and the board and the commission haven’t made any decisions on rules yet.

Then it gets even trickier. The Board of Supervisors has to vote on whether to remove the sheriff, and it takes nine votes to do that. So if three supervisors vote no, Mirkarimi is automatically back in office.

There are no rules in the Charter for how the board will proceed; in theory, the supervisors could simply accept the recommendation of the Ethics Commission and vote without any further hearings. They could rely on the record of the Ethics proceedings — or they could hold the equivalent of a second trial, with their own witnesses and procedures.

To add another layer of confusion, Mirkarimi, as sheriff, is classified under state law as a peace officer — and the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights sets entirely different standards for administrative and disciplinary hearings. Among other things, Mirkarimi could assert the right to have the Ethics Commission hearing closed to the public and the records sealed.

State law also mandates that a peace officer facing suspension without pay has the right to a hearing and adjudication within 90 days. That’s not in the City Charter; under the Charter, the city can wait as long as it wants to decide the issue.

Nobody knows for sure whether the Peace Officers Bill of Rights trumps the City Charter.

It’s clear that Mirkarimi, like anyone accused of a crime or facing an administrative hearing, has the right to due process — but not necessarily the same rights as he would have in a court proceeding. It’s also clear that the supervisors will be sitting in a quasi-judicial role — and thus can’t take into account anything that isn’t part of the official record of the case.

They probably can’t, for example, hold a public hearing on the issue — and judges in a case are theoretically supposed to ignore the hundreds of calls and emails that are now flooding in to the board offices on all sides.

The political implications are equally complex. Lee would have been in a dangerous situation if he declined to file charges — if Mirkarimi ever did anything else this disturbing, some would say it was Lee’s fault for leaving him in office.

It’s a safe bet that none of the supervisors are happy about having to vote on Mirkarimi’s job, but it’s particularly tough for the progressives. Anyone on the left who votes against removal will be subject to a barrage of attack ads — and since the balance of power on the board will be decided in November, when David Chiu, John Avalos, Eric Mar, David Campos, and Christina Olague, all more or less part of the progressive bloc, will all be up for re-election, the pressure on them will be immense.

That, in and of itself, ought to be reason for the sheriff to step down, some progressives say: Is preserving Mirkarimi in the Sheriff’s Office worth potentially destroying the progressive majority on the board? It’s a good question — and one that Lee’s advisors were well aware of, too.

Guardian Op-Ed: Domestic violence, a Latina feminist perspective


By Myrna Melgar

Myrna Melgar is a Latina survivor of childhood domestic violence, a feminist, and the mother of three girls. She is a former legislative aide to Sup. Eric Mar.

Eliana Lopez is my friend. I have asked for her permission to put into words, in English, some observations, thoughts and insights reached during our many conversations these past few weeks about her experience with San Francisco’s response to the allegation of domestic violence by her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. We hope this will lead to a teachable moment for law enforcement and anti-domestic-violence advocates about cultural sensitivity — and will lead to honest discussions about the meaning of empowerment of women.

We hope that Eliana’s experience, and our shared perspective, will prompt some analysis among feminists, advocates, and the progressive community in general about the impact of the criminalization of low-level, first offenses of domestic violence on this one immigrant woman — and the implications for all immigrant women and other women of color.

Eliana Lopez came to San Francisco from Venezuela with hope in her head and love in her heart. She decided to leave behind her beautiful city of Caracas, a successful career as an actress, and her family and friends, following the dream of creating a family and a life with a man she had fallen in love with but barely knew, Ross Mirkarimi.

Well-educated, progressive, charismatic, and artistic, she made friends easily. She and Ross seemed like a great match. Both were committed environmentalists, articulate and successful. They had a son, Theo. As they settled into domestic life, however, problems began to surface. The notoriously workaholic politician did not find his family role an easy fit. A bachelor into his late forties, Ross had trouble with the quiet demands of playing a puzzle on the floor with his toddler or having an agenda-less breakfast with his wife. Ross would not make time for Eliana’s request for marriage counseling, blaming the demands of job and campaign.

On December 31, figuring that the election campaign was over and Ross would have a little breathing room, Eliana broached the subject of traveling to Venezuela with Theo. Ross’s emotional reaction to her request led to the argument that has now been repeatedly documented in the press — and for which he was eventually charged.

According to Eliana, the context of what happened between them on December 31 actually started much earlier. Ross grew up as the only son of a single teenage mother of Russian Jewish descent and an absent Iranian immigrant father. Pressured by the opposition of her family to her relationship with an Iranian Muslim, Ross’s mother divorced his father by the time he was five. Ross was raised on a small, nearly all-white island in New England, with no connection to his father. When he had the opportunity, Ross traveled to Chicago, where his father had remarried and built a new family with two sons. Ross’s father turned him away. In Eliana’s analysis, Ross’s greatest fear is that his painful story with his father will be replayed again with Theo.

Eliana’s version of what happened next has never wavered. She went to her neighbor Ivory Madison, as opposed to anyone else, because she thought Ivory was a lawyer and could advise her if her troubles with her husband resulted in divorce. Documenting Ross’s reaction to her request to take Theo abroad would be ammunition — targeting his greatest fear. Making the video was Madison’s idea, and Eliana agreed to it, thinking that it would be useful to her if a custody dispute ensued. But in Eliana’s mind, the video was her property, her story.

Eliana insisted that Ivory did not have her permission to share the video or the story with anyone, that she was not in any danger, and that she was working on her marriage with Ross. Unbeknownst to Eliana, by the time Ivory called the police, she had already shared the story with Phil Bronstein, then the editor at large of Hearst Newspapers, the publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Let’s stop for a moment to consider the question of the empowerment of women. The disempowerment of Eliana began on a very small level when her husband grabbed her by the arm during an argument. It was exponentially magnified by the neighbor in whom she confided, who decided that Eliana’s strongly held desire to handle her problems with her husband herself was inconsequential. The disempowerment of Eliana was then magnified again and again, by the police, the press, the district attorney, and finally even anti-domestic-violence advocates.

How did it come to be that a system that was intended to empower women has evolved into a system that disempowers them so completely?

Unquestionably, there are women in deeply abusive relationships who need assistance getting out, who may not be able to initiate an escape on their own. Eliana’s relationship with Ross did not even come close to that standard. Yet in the eyes of Ivory Madison, Phil Bronstein, District Attorney George Gascon, and even the Director of La Casa de las Madres, once her husband had grabbed her arm, Eliana was simply no longer competent and her wishes were irrelevant.

In other words, an action done by a man, over which a woman has no control whatsoever, renders the woman incompetent and irrelevant, and empowers a long list of people — most of whom are male — to make decisions on this woman’s behalf, against her consistent and fervently expressed wishes. No one in the entire chain of people who made decisions on Eliana’s behalf offered her any help — besides prosecuting her husband.

Eliana was only consulted by the district attorney in the context of seeking her cooperation in relation to the criminal charges against her husband. Eliana never gave her input or assessment in the situation, was never consulted about the plea agreement.

Now the disempowerment of Eliana has taken an even more sinister twist. In an opinion piece published in the Chronicle, Ivory Madison’s husband, Abraham Mertens, charged Eliana with intimidation for allegedly pressuring his wife and himself to destroy the video that Ivory conceived and recorded of Eliana’s moment of distress. The same day, Mayor Ed Lee announced that he was suspending Ross as sheriff, and the charges, as written up by the City Attorney, included the Mertens accusation. This had the effect of silencing and disempowering Eliana — but this time, she is being threatened with criminal prosecution. The victim has somehow become the criminal.

Mertens, the mayor, the D.A., the city attorney, and the newspaper editor are all men. All men acting on behalf of a very educated and articulate woman who has repeatedly, passionately, asked them to give her her voice back. And for that they are threatening to criminally prosecute her.

Kathy Black, the director of La Casa de las Madres, called Eliana twice. At the same time, Black and other domestic violence advocates were calling on Ross to step down, raising money to put up billboards, and mobilizing for the anti-Ross campaign, trying him in the press. Seeing all this, Eliana never trusted Black’s motives and never took the call. Had Eliana thought assistance would be available her and to Ross without a threat to her family and livelihood, this all would have been a very different story.

During Ross’s initial preliminary hearing, Eliana Lopez famously told judge Susan Breall “this idea that I am this poor little immigrant is insulting, it’s a little racist.” And yet, what middle class, successful, educated Eliana was exposed to is exactly what we as a city have forced victims of domestic violence to face by our emphasis on criminal prosecution.

In San Francisco, we concentrate on saving victims from domestic violence situations. Our efforts in communities of color, immigrant communities, and teens is geared to make sure that victims get away from their abusers.

It’s inarguable that women in dangerous situations need to be provided options to get out. But concentrating on these alone — rather than on the array of options that are needed in less severe cases — is the equivalent of treating disease at the emergency room. In fact, this approach undermines prevention efforts because it puts women in the position of choosing between seeking help through counseling and therapy to modify the behavior of their partners — or exposing them to criminal prosecution. It has the unfortunate outcome of disempowering women, particularly low-income immigrant women and women of color, whose economic realities, position in society, and relationship to law enforcement both real and perceived is very different than for white middle-class women.

It’s not hard to see that, for immigrant women and women of color, exposure to law enforcement is perceived as dangerous. Many immigrants fear law enforcement based on their experiences with repressive regimes in their own countries. In the past couple of years, the mandatory referral to federal immigration authorities has created panic and fear of police in immigrant communities across America. Immigrant women, already on the edge economically, face the real threat of the loss of their partner’s income if the partner is accused of a crime and the boss finds out. Many black women understandably doubt the criminal justice system’s capacity to treat black men charged with any crime.

So here is the challenge to domestic violence advocates and progressive folks who care about women: A more progressive approach to Eliana and Ross’s particular situation, and to domestic violence in general, would be to work on emphasizing early, non-law enforcement intervention and the prevention of violence against women in addition to the necessary work of extricating women from dangerous situations.

Professor Laureen Snider at Queens University in Ontario has argued that criminalization is a flawed strategy for dealing with violence against women. Snider argues that feminists and progressives have misidentified social control with police/governmental control. In other words, we are substituting one oppressor for another — and glossing over the fact that in the judicial system, poor people of color fare worse than white middle-class people. We have punted on the hard work education, and of shaping and reshaping men’s definitions of masculinity and violence, of the social acceptance of the subjugation of women, of violence against children. We have chosen to define success in the fight against domestic violence by women saved from horrible situations and incarceration rates for their abusers — rather than doing the difficult work of community and individual change necessary to prevent violence from happening in the first place.

Putting up billboards in Spanish telling women that domestic violence is never a private matter might make people feel like they are doing something useful, but it will do nothing to help Eliana, and it will do very little to prevent domestic violence against women in the Spanish-speaking community.

My own experience with the community’s response to domestic violence was very different from Eliana’s. My father was physically abusive. The most violent period of my life was during high school in the 1980’s, shortly after we had immigrated to the United States from war-torn El Salvador. Our economic realities and shaky legal situation placed a level of stress on our family that made violence an almost daily occurrence.

I ran away from home, and eventually got connected with the services offered through the Redwood City YMCA. We entered family counseling, and the intervention was successful — my father was able to stop his violent behavior and our family survived. Had the police intervened, my father would have likely been charged, very possibly deported, and the whole family would have been sent back to El Salvador — back to the civil war.

In the case of my family, in which violence was a severe, everyday occurrence, there was a successful intervention. In Eliana’s case, which was limited to her husband too forcefully grabbing her arm, the family was destroyed and it will take years before the victim and her child will be able to (maybe) put their lives back together.

I challenge the progressive community and anti-violence advocates to reexamine this criminalization-heavy approach and its impact on my friend Eliana’s family, but also to examine how it affects all victims of domestic violence in San Francisco, particularly women in immigrant communities and women of color who rightfully have a distrustful relationship with law enforcement. Although it might make some feel better, all of this energy and effort spent demanding Ross Mirkarimi’s resignation only serves to reinforce the dominant model of criminalization — to make an example out of him. It won’t help Eliana, and it won’t help people suffering from violence in their intimate relationships.

Myrna Melgar is Latina survivor of childhood domestic violence, a feminist, and a mother of three girls. She is a former legislative aide to Sup. Eric Mar.


Lee’s charges against Mirkarimi leave questions unaddressed


UPDATED BELOW WITH “RESPONSE” FROM LEE’S OFFICE: Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was formally suspended today and served with “Written Charges of Official Misconduct” that for the first time outline why Mayor Ed Lee believes Mirkarimi should be removed from office, although they leave unaddressed many questions that Lee has been so far been avoiding answering.

The eight-page legal document prepared for Lee by the City Attorney’s Office briefly lays out the process (a hearing before the Ethics Commission, its recommendation, then action by the Board of Supervisors within 30 days thereafter) and the definition of official misconduct, focusing on this phrase: “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers.”

That vague language is fairly new and has never been considered or interpreted by any court, and the city acknowledges there are at least “two reasonable interpretations” of its meaning: “This phrase could be either (a) an example of misconduct that, by definition, relates to the duties of all public officers, or (b) an independent, alternative category of official misconduct that does not require a connection to an officer’s official.”

Lee’s attorneys argue that they don’t think a direct connection to an official’s duties is required, but they acknowledge that’s how it could be interpreted, so they try to make that connection as well, often by relying on evidence and testimony that hasn’t been vetted by the courts or by making connections likely to be challenged by Mirkarimi’s new attorney, David Waggoner.

The document recounts the “Wrongful Conduct by Sheriff Mirkarimi,” starting with his “acts of verbal and physical abuse against his wife, Eliana Lopez” on New Year’s Eve, continuing through the criminal charges filed against him on Jan. 13 with a focus on allegations that he dissuaded witnesses and “encouraged them to destroy evidence” and with his March 19 sentencing for false imprisonment, concluding the section with a reference to the newspaper quote from Don Wilson, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, that the plea had hurt morale in the department.

The DSA actively opposed Mirkarimi’s election, just as it did his predecessor and mentor, Michael Hennessey, in every contested election in the legendary progressive sheriff’s 32-year career, so it seems a little strange to rely on such a self-serving assessment. But that isn’t the only point that raises questions and potential challenges, particularly as they try to argue that Mirkarimi’s actions related to his official duties.

Part of Mirkarimi’s sentence included one day in jail, for which the judge said his booking qualified, meaning that he never actually was inside a cell. But Lee’s attorneys argue without explanation that, “Sheriff Mirkarimi’s one-day sentence to county jail undermines his ability to receive inmates and to supervise the County jails.” It certainly didn’t seem to for former Sheriff Dick Hongisto, who was jailed for several days after being held in contempt of court for refusing to carry out the International Hotel evictions, but who never faced sanctions from the mayor.

The first and seemingly strongest connection it makes between his actions and official duties listed was, “Sheriff Mirkarimi misused his office, and the status and authority it carries, for personal advantage when he stated to Ms. Lopez that he could win custody of their child because he was very powerful,” a charge taken from the videotaped testimony that Lopez gave to his neighbor Ivory Madison.

Lopez’s attorneys have noted that she made the video to paint Mirkarimi as abusive in case there was a custody battle, as she says on tape, and that she was seeking confidential legal help from Madison and never intended for it to be released. But her and Mirkarimi’s attempts to retrieve it are labeled in the charges as efforts to “encourage the destruction of evidence regarding criminal activity,” which they argue also relates to his duties as a law enforcement officer. This issue is likely to be a matter of serious debate during the Ethics Commission hearing.

Finally, the document argues that because the Sheriff’s Department can enforce protective orders in domestic violence cases and funds programs for domestic violence perpetrators – and because it sometimes interacts with the Adult Probation Department, given Mirkarimi’s three-year probation – that the charges directly relate to his official duties.

Clearly, these are complicated issues that raise a variety of questions, which is why it was disconcerting yesterday when Lee announced the charges to a room packed with journalists and refused to take any of our questions. City Attorney Dennis Herrera didn’t speak at all, simply standing behind Lee looking stone-faced and perhaps a bit uncomfortable.

Earlier today, I sent Lee and his Office of Communications a list of questions that I think he has a public obligation to address given the drastic action that he’s just taken against an elected official. I haven’t received a reply yet, but I’m including my comments here for you to consider as well:


I was disappointed that Mayor Lee took no questions during yesterday’s press conference, because I had several that I’m hoping you can address for a long story we’re writing on the Mirkarimi affair for our next issue. I’m hoping to get answers by the end of the workday on Friday.
– Will Mayor Lee release the memo he received from the City Attorney’s Office on Ross Mirkarimi and whether his crime rises to the level of official misconduct? [Note to reader: That advice memo is different than the charges I discuss above.] It is solely under Lee’s authority to waive attorney-client privilege and release the memo, as even Willie Brown urged him to do in his Chronicle column on Sunday. And if he won’t release it, can he explain why?
– Lee told reporters last week that he would explain why Mirkarimi’s action rise to the level of official misconduct if concluded they did, but Lee didn’t offer that explanation yesterday. Why does Lee believe actions that Mirkarimi took before assuming office, which were unconnected to his official duties, warrant his removal from office? Is Lee basing his decision primarily on the crime Mirkarimi committed on New Year’s Eve or his actions and statements since then? What specific actions or statements by Mirkarimi does the mayor believe rise to official misconduct?
– Why didn’t Lee consult with Eliana Lopez or her attorney before making this decision? None of the purported evidence in this case has been scrutinized by the courts as to its veracity or completeness (that would have happened at the trial). The only two people who know for sure what happened that night are Ross and Eliana, so why hasn’t Lee asked either of them what happened?
– Why did Lee set a 24-hour deadline for Mirkarimi to resign or be removed? Did Lee offer Mirkarimi anything in exchange for his resignation, such as another city job?
– Who did the mayor consult with about whether Mirkarimi should be removed before making this decision? Were any members of the DSA or SFPOA consulted? How about Rose Pak or other members of the business community? How about Michael Hennessey? Did he seek input and advice from John St. Croix or anyone from the Ethics Commission?
– It’s my understanding that the mayor wasn’t required to remove Mirkarimi from office without pay pending his official misconduct hearings, that Mirkarimi could have either remained in the job or been suspended with pay. Why did Lee feel a need to place this additional financial pressure on Mirkarimi to abandon the office that voters elected him to? Is he concerned about the impact of his decision on Eliana Lopez and Theo?
– Mayor Lee has prided himself on being someone focused on “getting things done” without creating unnecessary political distractions. So why does he want to drag out this distracting political drama for another few months? Why does he believe that it’s a good use of the city’s time and resources to be a forum for airing details of a sordid conflict that has proven to be a divisive issue? Is he worried about exposing the city to liability in a civil lawsuit if his charges against Mirkarimi are later found to be without merit?
– Does Lee intend for Vicki Hennessy to be the permanent replacement for Mirkarimi if the official misconduct charges are upheld? Will he take into account the will of the voters in electing Mirkarimi, someone who had pledged to uphold and continue the legacy of progressive leadership of the Sheriff’s Department as embodied by the long career of Michael Hennessey? Given that the DSA consistently opposed Hennessey at election time, and that in this election voters rejected the DSA’s choices, why is Lee substituting his own judgment and political preferences for those of San Francisco’s voters? Why did Lee feel a need to take preemptive action against Mirkarimi rather than simply allowing voters to launch a recall campaign, which is the typical remedy for removing politicians who have gone through some kind of public scandal?

UPDATE 3/26: Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey told the Guardian that we would have answers to these questions by Friday, but then sent the following message as a response late Friday afternoon: “Steve, After looking at your questions, it seems Mayor Lee addressed much of this in his comments on Tuesday. After Sheriff Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a crime of false imprisonment, Mayor Lee made a thorough review of the facts, reviewed his duties under the Charter and gave the Sheriff an opportunity to resign. When that did not happen, he moved to suspend the Sheriff. For any information regarding what is in the charges, I will refer you to the City Attorney’s office and their website that has all of the public documents posted.”

For the record, Lee has not addressed these questions nor made any public statements on whether he will release the advice memo (as even Willie Brown publicly urged him to do) or explained why he’s keeping that document secret. And we haven’t even had the opportunity to ask the mayor these questions directly because he hasn’t held any public events since announcing his decision to remove Mirkarimi.