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Where’s Mirkarimi’s ‘Official Misconduct’?

Written By : Debra Saunders
March 29, 2012

I hate to sound like a lawyer, but: There’s a big hole in San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s suspension of Ross Mirkarimi as sheriff.

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In written charges that launched an investigation by the city’s Ethics Commission on “official misconduct,” Lee asserted that during a New Year’s Eve argument, Mirkarimi grabbed his wife, Eliana Lopez, “with such force that he bruised her upper right arm.” The big hole: Mirkarimi didn’t become sheriff until Jan. 8.

“One cannot abuse an office one does not hold,” wrote Mirkarimi’s attorney David P. Waggoner in a legal challenge to the suspension.

Lee also charged that people acting for Mirkarimi — read: Lopez — “dissuaded and intimidated one or more witnesses.” In a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, neighbor Abraham Mertens claimed that on Jan. 4, Lopez asked him and his wife to destroy evidence in the case. That allegation has not been proved in court, and again, Mirkarimi wasn’t sheriff.

The mayor claims that the city charter doesn’t “require that the wrongful conduct at issue occur while the officer held the office from which the mayor seeks to remove him.” So how far back in time can the mayor go?

The answer to that question should give pause to other elected officials in San Francisco.

For his part, the mayor can point to the fact that Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment — for grabbing his wife’s arm — when he was sheriff-elect. After sentencing, Mirkarimi announced, “There are no excuses, and I accept full responsibility.”

Clearly, Mirkarimi did not think that accepting responsibility meant that he would have to forfeit his job.

Mirkarimi didn’t understand the political climate, even though he had seen firsthand how the pendulum on domestic violence has swung too far. In the ugly old extreme, cops wouldn’t arrest men who beat their wives. In this new extreme, Mirkarimi bruised his wife’s arm; that led to a charge of domestic violence battery. His son was there; add a charge of child endangerment. If he asked his wife not to tell friends or if his wife tried to dissuade a friend from talking to authorities, then City Hall could accuse Mirkarimi of dissuading a witness.

While the above three charges were pending, Mirkarimi had to stay away from his home and his wife, although the court did allow two-hour visitations with his son.

The district attorney later dropped the three charges; in exchange, Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to false imprisonment. (Mirkarimi still can’t talk to his wife until family court says he can.)

False imprisonment sounds so sinister, like kidnapping. But when I asked District Attorney George Gascon to explain what the charge involves, he answered, “Using fear or intimidation in order to keep someone from moving freely.” That is, “He told her not to leave, and he grabbed her.”

It didn’t matter that Lopez said her husband didn’t hurt her.

I don’t see how it helps Mirkarimi’s political future if he wins in court and a judge reinstates him as sheriff.

But I also don’t understand how a mayor can override the will of voters and fire an elected sheriff for “official misconduct” — for conduct that had nothing to do with a job in to which Mirkarimi had yet to be sworn.

That’s not the rule of law; it’s mob rule.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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