Ross Mirkarimi: Canning Him Is Easier Said than Done

The politically undead do not go gently into the night
It never inspires much confidence if questions about one's future employment necessitate an answer of "let's wait until my sentencing." Now that Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has opted to plea to a lesser charge of false imprisonment in his ongoing domestic violence saga, both the Chron and the Examiner today postulate on whether Mayor Ed Lee will force Mirkarimi's hand and suspend him.

Lee, however, is not Donald Trump -- either in temperament or, unfettered ability to dismiss people who have overstayed their welcomes. Mirkarimi would be out the door if he were a private security guard, and would have a very hard time being hired as a sheriff's deputy. But the mayor's removal of a "public officer" is a rare and exacting procedure. "Official misconduct" is required -- and one of the benefits of years of law school and on-the-job lawyerin' is being able to define "official misconduct."

It's also in Section 15.105 of the city charter:

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.

SF Weekly wrote about this subject earlier. But the matter, if anything, has grown even more complex. The scenario facing the mayor was either that the headstrong Mirkarimi would be acquitted -- which would leave Lee with little recourse -- or be convicted of a rather serious domestic violence charge -- which could well lead to a suspension. But when the sheriff opted to plea down, he pulled the rug out from under City Hall.

Ed Lee Dealer Charlie Powell.jpg
Charlie Powell
Ed Lee doesn't have a trump card -- or a Trump card. But he may succeed by doing nothing.
However bad it looks for the city's jailer to plead guilty to false imprisonment, it remains a challenge to claim this was "job-related misconduct" -- especially since the alleged abuse incident took place before Mirkarimi was sworn in as sheriff. In fact, it's hard to see how this was "job-related" at all.

If Lee pushes to remove Mirkarimi, he'd need to submit written evidence of the aforementioned job-related misconduct to the Ethics Commission, who would then submit a non-binding recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Then, nine of the 11 sitting supervisors would need vote to dismiss the sheriff as well. This would appear to be tricky, both legally and politically.

As SF Weekly reported earlier, there are legal precedents on what constitutes "job-related misconduct." In 1976 10 of 11 supervisors voted to uphold Mayor George Moscone's suspension of Airport Commissioner Joe Mazzola. The plumbers union boss was removed from his city post for refusing to order plumbers striking against the city and county to fix airport toilets. Four years later, however, the state Court of Appeal ruled that the city had overstepped its bounds. Per the court:

The record contained no legal basis for a finding of official misconduct.... [The Court] held that the commissioner could not be charged with such misconduct, since the charges had nothing to do with his official capacity as airports commissioner nor to the performance of his duties as such. ... To warrant the removal of an officer, the misconduct ... must have direct relation to and be connected with the performance of official duties, and amount either to maladministration or to willful and intentional neglect and failure to discharge the duties of the office.
In the end, Lee may not have to dirty his hands politically to still see Mirkarimi out. A recall election could be initiated by June if anti-Mirkarimi forces gather some 45,000 signatures (a costly proposition). Or Lee could simply allow Mirkarimi to limp through the remaining three years of his term, and possibly induce a civil war among city progressives as his detractors and chauvinistic partisans duke it out.

A hands-off approach that could allow Lee's political opponents to tear themselves apart? That sounds interesting.

This story originally reported that it would require the votes of four of the five Ethics Commissioners to move this case to the Board of Supervisors. That is incorrect. 

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Mirkarimi is being victimized by a bunch of people who want nothing more than to make a name for themselves. Furthermore, you have an interim mayor that through no fault of his own has lost his administrator job for taking on the responsibility of interim mayor. Ed Lee has succumbed to the pressure of outside forces and is in an impossible position. He didn't want to retire just yet and is now faced with running for mayor or retire. Tough choice, he has been screwed out of his previous job through no fault of his own and is no in an impossible situation of being forced to support a portion of the constituency that has indicated in no uncertain terms that they will withdraw their support for him if he does not dismiss Mirkarimi. Against his better judgement he appoints an interim sheriff and commits the city to a litigation that it will quite likely lose and subsequently be required to pay a settlement far beyond the amount Mirkarimi would have earned by allowing him to function in his elected capacity and allow these issues to resolve themselves as personal issues which they clearly were until an unauthorized privileged conversation became public.

Mirkarimi's personal life is exactly that, personal. The allegations made of misconduct will not hold water and will never pass the "smell" test. I have grown very tired of groups that wish to denigrate public servants using whatever vile means they can conjure to destroy the lives of good people that have done nothing more than made a mistake that in each and everyone of us in our daily lives would like to be forgiven for from time to time. I sincerely believe that what occurred between this husband and wife should have remained a private situation without intervention and speculation from a "Glory Seeking" individual with an axe to grind and a wish for personal publicity for the purposes of later self-promotion.

Ultimately, this will play out in the newspapers and media. In the end, no one will benefit and multiple lives and reputations will be ruined. All of this because a self- promoting individual along with support from a fringe group wishing to attain more attention decided that they would crucify an individual and his family for publicity purposes simply because they were tired of waiting for a "Real Situation" to occur worthy of such publicity and attention take place such that they could capitalize on the media attention, publicity and large scale press coverage they desired.

I feel badly for the Mirkarimi family. I am saddened that an honest man like Ed Lee was forced into an ugly, no-win situation where no matter what way he turned he was staring at a situation where the proper solution would yield him public criticism driven by a fringe group capable of denigrating his reputation as well.

I hope and pray for justice. Justice for the Mirkarimi Family and Justice for Ed Lee. I hope that all of the others seeking a false vendetta, all of the groups looking for justice for previous injustices don't succeed in destroying those that simply wish to be left alone, serve their constituents, serve those they have committed to and uphold the duties to which they committed themselves to serve.


No one won this one. Mayor Lee and Mirkarimi's enemies didn't create the incident that led to the charges, that's on the sheriff. However, the gloating and the premature plotting to remove Ross long before the plea was just as shameless as the "progressives" who made excuses for Ross's behavior. In the end, noboby wins, not certainly the citizens, who would like to see their pricey City Government do something constructive for a change.

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