With the swearing in of San Francisco interim Sheriff Vicki Hennessy on Wednesday, Mayor Ed Lee hoped to steer the city clear of the sideshow of embattled Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s domestic violence case.
“It’s been my intention and I believe the intention of the rest of the city to get to work,” said Lee immediately after administering the oath of office to Hennessy.
But despite Lee’s intentions to avoid distraction, the city’s murkiest days may lie ahead.
Just before the swearing-in, the city served Mirkarimi with misconduct charges, officially suspending him from the office he’s held since January. The move sets in motion the legal and political maneuvering likely to foreshadow a spectacle unlike the city has ever witnessed.
The first stop on the Mirkarimi express is before the city’s Ethics Commission. The five-member board will hear the case for Mirkarimi’s permanent removal from the job as Sheriff. John St. Croix, Executive Director of the commission said a public hearing could take place as soon as five days after the charges were served, though it will more likely be weeks. St. Croix expects the hearing to take place in early April.
The hearing would last at least a day, he said. The corruption case against former San Francisco Supervisor Ed Jew lasted two days.
The commission has yet to determine the format for Mirkarimi’s hearing. It may include witnesses and evidence, such as the now-infamous videotape of Mirkarimi’s wife Eliana Lopez reportedly showing her bruised arm to neighbor Ivy Madison.
The five-member Ethics Commission, mostly made-up of attorneys, would then forward its recommendation on whether or not Mirkarimi should be removed to the Board of Supervisors, where Mirkarimi served two terms. No matter which way the Ethics Commission decides, the final decision ends up with the board.
“The train has left the station and is barreling down the tracks,” said Democratic Strategist and former Mayor Gavin Newsom spokesman, Nathan Ballard.
Ballard said the hearing before the supervisors sets-up an unusual political scenario.
“The Board of Supervisors will be the judge and jury for Ross Mirkarimi,” said Ballard, “their old colleague, and in many cases, their own friend.”
Ballard expects the board hearing to become a spectacle, minus many of the rules of a traditional court.
“In a case that will have certain ground rules,” said Ballard, “but not the strict rules that you’re going to see in a court of law.”
St. Croix said once the board receives the case, supervisors will have 30 days to render their decision. Because the city’s charter doesn’t lay out a specific format for such hearings, the board will have some wiggle room on how to format its proceedings.
Again, the videotape of Eliana Lopez could possibly become evidence. It would take nine of the eleven supervisors to pass a permanent ousting of Mirkarimi.
Already adding some spice to the mix, is word Mirkarimi may seek a court injunction to try and delay his suspension. Calls to his new attorney, David Waggoner were not returned.
Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that even as Mayor Lee tries to veer the city’s official tires back on track, a twisty and vicious road lays ahead.