Mayor Ed Lee has the power under the City Charter to suspend elected officials for misconduct and last week he met with embattled Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to discuss the law enforcer’s future.
But if history serves as any roadmap, removing a sitting politician from his position is time-consuming and difficult.
Attorney Steven Gruel knows first hand the obstacles facing Lee. He was representing Supervisor Ed Jew when Mayor Gavin Newsom suspended Jew in September 2007.
Jew was eventually convicted of extorting $80,000 from local business owners and for not living in the district he represented as required by law.
“The case against Ed Jew was much stronger for removal,” Gruel said, because Jew had, at the time he was suspended, allegedly committed crimes that clearly violated his official duties. Jew had extorted business owners in his district and there was evidence he didn’t live in the district, such as the lack of trash collection and energy bills.
While the mayor is often asked whether he will suspend Mirkarimi, Lee has had less than a month to consider the Mirkarimi case, and new evidence keeps emerging as the trial date of Feb. 24 looms.
Newsom took months before pulling the trigger on the Jew suspension. His office was raided by the FBI in May 2007, the District Attorney charged him with nine felonies for lying about where he lived in June 2007. It wasn’t until the end of the September when Newsom finally suspended him.
If Lee were to suspend the newly-elected Sheriff for official misconduct, he would need to lay out the charges and then appoint a replacement. The Ethics Commission would hold hearings and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. The ultimate decision lies with the Board of Supervisors, who has remained mostly silent on the issue. Nine supervisors would have to cast a vote for removal.
Gruel said in the case of Jew, the Ethics Commission was unclear what process to follow and rules regarding removal were murky. A number of questions were raised, including what kind of evidence could be used, how witnesses could be called and examined, and if there really could be “due process” since the commissioners are all appointed by the elected officials who brought the charges.
“It was a kangaroo court at best,” he said. The process got “stuck” in sorting out those details and never advanced. Jew ultimately resigned.
Gruel said the dissuading a witness charge seems the strongest grounds Lee has under the City Charter to suspend Mirkarimi since it meets “both prongs” of the definition for official misconduct, both “wrongful behavior by a public officer in relation to the duties of his or her office” and “conduct that falls below the standard of decency.”
It remains unclear at this point what evidence the prosecutors have against Mirkarimi for the charge he dissuaded his wife Eliana Lopez. All that is known at this point is that according to court documents Mirkarimi has said he was a “very powerful man.”
The charter is vague enough for Lee to suspend, Gruel said, “but will it fly?” One thing is clear. Don’t count on Mirkarimi stepping down. Gruel said that’s the last thing Mirkarimi should do since his elected post is “leverage.”
Newly-elected Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanors stemming from an alleged dispute at his home on New Year’s Eve. If convicted, the sheriff could face up to one year in jail and three year’s probation.
Source: District Attorney’s Office