Panel meets to set rules in sheriff's ethics case

A San Francisco ethics commission began setting ground rules Monday for the misconduct case against the sheriff who was suspended after being charged with domestic violence.

The five-member panel held its first meeting to consider the fate of Ross Mirkarimi, a former city supervisor and recently elected sheriff.

The commission set a timetable for both sides to submit legal briefs, and its chairman, Benedict Hur, said the panel will meet again on May 29 to decide if, when and how testimony will be heard, the San Jose Mercury News ( ) reported.

Mirkarimi pleaded guilty last month to one count of misdemeanor false imprisonment after being accused of bruising the arm of his wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez.

Prosecutors originally charged him with misdemeanor domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness after a next-door neighbor turned over a video to police showing a tearful Lopez displaying a bruised arm.

Mirkarimi is fighting Mayor Ed Lee's effort to suspend him without pay and permanently remove him from office. Mirkarimi argues the domestic violence charges were politically motivated.

"Because I made a mistake with my wife does not detract from my ability ... of being a very capable sheriff," he said after Monday's hearing.

At the meeting, backers lined up to speak in support of Mirkarimi. Some questioned the commission's ability to be fair after ignoring significant transgressions by other city officials.

Mirkarimi is "a gentle soul with a tender heart toward his community ... but especially toward his wife and child," said Tammy Bryant, a San Francisco resident. "This case is based on an after-the-fact, hearsay statement."

After hearing evidence, the commission is required to forward its findings to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, which would make the final decision on whether the sheriff should lose his job.

Nine of the 11 supervisors would have to agree for Mirkarimi to be permanently removed.

Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, emphasized that the commission is charged with evaluating the evidence from an ethical, not legal, perspective.

"I think that from an ethical perception, when you step into the public sector, you open yourself to public scrutiny," Nadler, former mayor of Santa Clara, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's important to have a body that can look at specific ethical ramifications and conflicts, because there can be things that are legal but unethical."

Mirkarimi has said he accidentally bruised his wife while they were arguing over whether she could take their 3-year-old son to Venezuela for an extended stay.

Mirkarimi claimed his son panicked when Lopez left the car and tried to get him out of his car seat. Mirkarimi said he put his hand underneath her arm to bring her back into the seat.