The next-door neighbors who exposed Ross Mirkarimi’s domestic violence scandal are suing the San Francisco sheriff and his wife, Venezuelan television star Eliana Lopez, for defamation.
Ivory Madison and her husband Abraham Mertens said the sheriff and Lopez damaged their reputations and embarrassed them throughout last year’s 10-month-long public saga. According to a lawsuit filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court, Mirkarimi and Lopez falsely accused Madison and Mertens of “committing crimes, unethical acts, and other contemptible conduct.”
The lawsuit states that Mirkarimi and Lopez publicly accused the couple of conspiracy, perjury, practicing law without a license, and submitting false statements to police. It referred to an incident on Jan. 17 of last year in which Lopez publicly accused the couple of being “part of a political conspiracy” and of seeking financial gain from the scandal.
Mertens did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Mirkarimi did not respond to a telephone call or text message sent Friday, but his wife's former attorney was surprised by the suit.
“Wow; I've looked at the lawsuit, and my legal opinion is, 'Wow,'” said Paula Canny, a Peninsula attorney who represented Lopez last year. “I thought that after the Board of Supervisors vote and all that everyone was going to move on. Wow.”
Mirkarimi had yet to be served with the lawsuit when contacted for comment and has not yet retained civil counsel, according to attorney Shepherd Kopp. The Los Angeles lawyer, who represented Mirkarimi during last year’s criminal and official misconduct proceedings, called the lawsuit “without merit.”
“If it ever gets to a trier of fact — and my prediction is that it will be dismissed long before that — there is no doubt in my mind that Ross and Eliana will prevail,” Kopp said.
The lawsuit was filed one year to the day from the alleged defamation. The statute of limitations in California for suing for defamation is one year.
Madison, who was once friends with Lopez and a political supporter of Mirkarimi, was the first to bring claims of abuse by the current sheriff to police. But Lopez sided with her husband when the newly elected sheriff was subsequently was arrested.
A video shot by Madison of Lopez tearfully recounting tales of her husband’s abuse was the key piece of evidence in the sheriff’s criminal case as well as the removal proceedings.
Mirkarimi was charged in connection with an argument on New Year’s Eve of 2011 in which he grabbed and bruised Lopez’s arm. Three months later, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor false imprisonment and was sentenced to three months probation.
That same month, Mayor Ed Lee began an effort to remove Mirkarimi as sheriff for official misconduct, which was supported by the city’s Ethics Commission. But after a five-month public ordeal and the expenditure of $1.3 million in city legal resources, the mayor failed to gain enough votes from the Board of Supervisors to oust him.
In a March 20 Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Mertens called on Mirkarimi to resign as sheriff for paying “a team of lawyers to relentlessly attempt to discredit, dissuade and harm my wife.”
Mertens also wrote that Lopez had pressured him to destroy evidence and lie to the police about the abuse.
From the start, Mertens claims, he and Madison had no other intention but to report serious allegations of abuse told to her by Lopez.