Watch Video Replay of Last Night’s Ethics Commission Hearing on Ross Mirkarimi

Update Apr 24 From KQED News:

Ross Mirkarimi at Monday's Ethics Commission hearing (Mina Kim/KQED)

It could be months before the San Francisco Ethics Commission makes a recommendation on whether suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi should keep his job. KQED’s Mina Kim reports last night’s initial hearing was all about process.

Commission Chair Benedict Hur said it would likely take until late May for the five-member commission to decidee whether to include live witness testimony in the proceedings,” Kim says. In the meantime, Hur directed the city to submit its legal brief first, followed by one from Mirkarimi’s lawyer.

After listening to nearly two hours of procedural discussion, the public got its turn to speak. About 30 supporters of Mirkarimi lined up to voice their opposition to the suspension. Among the first to speak was self-described activist Ernestine Waters Weiss.

“A man’s life hangs in the balance and you should take it seriously,” she said. “And dismiss this completely because it’s out of bounds.”

Pedro Fernandez introduced himself as a former San Francisco police officer and called the proceedings a political witchhunt. “It’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, and it’s ruining this man’s life.”

But not everyone who spoke was on Mirkarimi’s side. Beverly Upton, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Consortium, said the commission’s decision on Mirkarimi will have a far-reaching impact. “The world is watching. My concern is that victims are watching, victims who cannot come out of their homes and talk.”

The commission will make a recommendation, but only a super-majority on the Board of Supervisors has the power to remove Mirkarimi from office.

Monday’s post Today at 4:30 p.m. — the San Francisco Ethics Commission hearing of the century.

That’s the one where they discuss misconduct charges brought against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirakimi by Mayor Ed Lee. Lee pulled the trigger on the filing after Mirkarimi pled guilty to a misdemeanor False Imprisonment charge stemming from the now-famous domestic dispute with his wife.

The Mayor is seeking to have Mirkarimi — sworn in as sheriff in January, suspended in March — permanently removed from his position for official misconduct under Section 15.105 of the city charter. That states…

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, 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.

When any City law provides that a violation of the law constitutes or is deemed official misconduct, the conduct is covered by this definition and may subject the person to discipline and/or removal from office.

Today’s hearing opener is probably not going to provide a surfeit of human drama. From the Ethics Board’s agenda

The Ethics Commission will confer on procedural issues regarding charges pending against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi…

The Ethics Commission will hold a hearing on this date to establish the process, parameters and protocol for the hearing required under the Charter.

The Ethics Commissioners will provide an opportunity for the attorney(s) of the Mayor and the attorney(s) of Sheriff Mirkarimi to identify their concerns regarding procedure and scheduling. There will be opportunity for public comment on this item. (Discussion and possible action.)

After that, things may or may not heat up. From the Chronicle’s look-ahead today…

Rather than a courtroom-style trial before the five commission members – which could involve witnesses, exhibits, cross-examination and surprise testimony – the tentative plan for the hearing calls for a series of written legal briefs from the city and Mirkarimi.

The hearing would be a slow-motion affair, with the city’s opening brief, along with its evidence in the case, due a week after Monday’s hearing. Mirkarimi’s response, with his own evidence, would come two weeks later and the city’s reply a week after that. One suggested option would cut the timeline by a week.

After all the briefs had been filed and read, the commission would hear oral arguments from the attorneys, discussing whether live witnesses would need to be heard.

“Live testimony may not be necessary,” [Commission Executive Director John] St. Croix’s letter said, but if it is, potential witnesses “should indicate all weekdays on which they have an unavoidable conflict within the next 90 days.” Full article

After its proceedings are done, the Ethics Board is required to forward the case to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation. At that point, the supes will take up the case, with nine of 11 board members in favor of removal required for Mirkarimi to lose his job.

So how likely is that? Last month, both University of San Francisco political science professor Corey Cook and Golden Gate University Law School Professor Peter Keane told us that obtaining such a super-majority could be a tall order. But both also agreed that the supes will be in a difficult position.

“Mirkarimi has a lot of political and personal allies on the board,” Cook told KQED’s Cy Musiker. “This will pose a challenge to other progressives…They’ll be under a lot of pressure from constituents who are both angered by the charges and others who want to keep him around… This is a no-win politically. The allegations are very strong and disturbing to anyone who lives in the city. It’s hard for progressives on the board to try to defend that behavior. Do they try to make the argument that these don’t rise to the standard of official misconduct? And how much political capital are they willing to expend?”

Keane agreed the circumstances surrounding the case will not help Mirkarimi. “San Francisco is a place that has tremendous consciousness and sympathy toward victims of domestic abuse, as opposed to maybe some other areas of the country where it’s seen as a family or private matter,” he said on KQED Public Radio’s “Forum” show. “The empathy for domestic violence victims has been part of the furor that has resulted in Mirkarimi’s being brought to where he is now.”

Since those interviews, Mirkarimi has gone public in an emotional account of what he says transpired during the incident with his wife. San Francisco Attorney George Gascon, whose office prosecuted the case, responded yesterday in an scathing interview of his own, in which he repeatedly referred to the suspended sheriff as a “criminal defendant” who “rationalized” his behavior.

How any of this has affected the political calculus…who knows? Here’s an analysis on the ethics portion of the process, from the Examiner last month.

KQED’s Mina Kim is tweeting live from the ethics board hearing. Click on the play button below to activate the Twitter feed…

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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