Prosecutorial Pile-on for Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi

The acquittal and dismissal in the John Edwards campaign-finance fraud case and the acquittal of Roger Clemens on perjury charges after high-profile federal trials should give San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi hope. It would seem jurors aren’t going for prosecutions that pit the full force of the government — the power to destroy people’s lives and reputations — against errant, but not habitually criminal, individuals.

Mirkarimi, however, isn’t facing a jury of his peers. He is facing two panels of politicians in a city not known for political restraint.

District Attorney George Gascón had charged Mirkarimi with three misdemeanor counts — domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness — after Mirkarimi bruised his wife’s arm during an argument Dec. 31. Trying to limit the personal and professional damage of a domestic-violence prosecution, Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false-imprisonment in March. The plea bargain did not spare Mirkarimi’s career. Mayor Ed Lee pushed the newly elected sheriff to quit. Mirkarimi refused. Citing “official misconduct,” Lee suspended Mirkarimi. The city ethics commission now must recommend whether Mirkarimi should stay on as sheriff. Within 30 days of the recommendation, the supervisors will vote.

If 9 of 11 vote to remove him, he’s out.

From day 1, the case against Mirkarimi was overblown. He was wrong to grab his wife’s arm, but to my thinking, a bruised arm is not so outrageous that it should land a man in jail — especially when wife Eliana Lopez asserted that her husband did not abuse her and objected to police prosecution.

Gascón: might have felt he had no choice but to step in, as neighbor Ivory Madison had videotaped Lopez and the bruise. But Gascón: did not have to add the charges of child endangerment (because the couple’s son was present) and dissuading a witness to the mix. It’s the prosecutorial pile-on that tips the scale of justice downward.

The mayor has joined in the pile-on. Lee’s complaint charges that Mirkarimi “committed acts of verbal and physical abuse against his wife” — verbal abuse is now a firing offense? — and that Mirkarimi condoned “efforts to dissuade witnesses.” If anything, however, documents suggest that Lopez, not Mirkarimi, might have asked people to withhold information.

Mirkarimi summed up the mayor’s case as “throwing whatever they can against the wall and see what sticks.”

Ethics Commissioner Paul Renne was so appalled at prejudicial personal charges in Madison’s declaration — for example, she alleged that the sheriff tightly controlled family purse strings — that Renne called on his colleagues to reject it and instead make her testify and submit to questions. Quoth Renne, “A first-year lawyer would recognize that much of it is inadmissible.”

It would be one thing if Lee simply argued that San Franciscans would be better served by a sheriff not on probation. But the establishment won’t be happy with anything short of destroying the man because he wouldn’t leave quietly.

The well-financed City Attorney’s Office has amassed a declaration from an old girlfriend and 200-page submissions from expert witnesses. It’s the sort of documentation you’d expect for a major crime, not a bruised arm.

Email Debra J. Saunders at

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