News coverage about Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s domestic violence case that his defense team called “inflammatory” has prompted his lawyers to ask a judge to send the trial to another county — an option prosecutors say they are considering.
Trial Judge Garrett Wong is still examining potential jurors, and opening statements are likely several days away. But having already lost several important pretrial arguments on evidence, Mirkarimi’s attorney Lidia Stiglich filed a motion Monday asking Wong for a change of venue.
“There’s been, obviously, extensive publicity in this case,” Stiglich told reporters on Tuesday, adding that jurors here “have formed strong opinions” and were personally invested in the fate of an official elected to represent them.
“That issue really gives us some pause about whether or not he can get a fair trial here in this city,” Stiglich said.
While Stiglich diplomatically told reporters that she is seeking the change “in large part because you are all very good at your work,” her motion cited daily “inflammatory and editorial” news stories about the case. Responses so far from juror questionnaires, she wrote, “reflect, clearly, that the negative coverage has tainted the pool.”
Prosecutors had not responded to the motion as of Tuesday. In addition to jurors’ initial written responses, they may also be weighing the potential for a successful appeal, should a San Francisco jury convict the sheriff in the politically charged case.
“We believe strongly enough in the jury selection process and San Franciscans to afford defendant Mirkarimi a fair trial,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Omid Talai said. “That being said, we are exploring the option of a different venue.”
Jim Hammer, a defense attorney and former prosecutor who has handled high-profile cases on both sides, said such motions were rare in misdemeanor cases, but he wouldn’t hazard a guess as to whether the judge would grant it.
“The answer lies in the numbers,” Hammer said. “Are there enough people who can be fair? And secondly, does the judge think, with all the political overtones of the case, can Mirkarimi get a fair trial?”