Ivory Madison was the person who filmed Eliana Lopez tearfully describing the bruise that Ross Mirkarimi left on her arm. And Madison, a neighbor of the sheriff and his wife, Lopez, was the person who notified authorities about the abuse. But Madison never personally testified to the Ethics Commission about whether the sheriff should be removed from office.
In the proceedings to determine Mirkarimi’s future as sheriff, Madison submitted a detailed, 22-page declaration.
Witnesses were only called for cross-examination and Mirkarimi’s attorneys never called Madison to the stand. Not that she was probably eager to do so in a room full of people who gave Mirkarimi a standing ovation every day.
But Madison and her husband, Abraham Mertens, may get their day in front of a jury yet. On Thursday, they filed a defamation lawsuit against Mirkarimi and Lopez. The complaint isn’t very detailed, but it does indicate that objectionable statements were made beginning Jan. 17, 2012. On that day, Lopez allegedly gave an interview on a Venezuelan radio station where she made several statements about Madison, including, “This woman is broke. She has no money. She has no insurance.”
Later, in her testimony at the Ethics Commission hearing, Lopez said that Madison led her to believe that she was a licensed attorney (while she is a law school graduate, Madison is not a member of the state bar). And Lopez said Madison told her that, in case of a divorce, the state would take away her child because she didn’t then have a green card.
Lopez claimed that it was Madison’s idea to accuse Mirkarimi of abuse to ensure that Lopez could keep her son.
“Her plan was to convince me to call the police,” Lopez said, “and she brought all these new plans about the police.”
Legally, defamation is a knowingly false public statement that causes injury to another person. As a practical matter, it is very difficult to prove because you have to show that the facts underlying the statement are false, that the speaker knew they were false and that the victim was damaged. Proving what someone is thinking is a tall order in any case, but since California also has a law that protects certain public speech in official proceedings and about public issues, this is no easy case.
Mertens, a lawyer since 2003, is listed as counsel and apparently will represent himself and his wife. One of Mirkarimi’s lawyers from the Ethics Commission hearing, Shepard Kopp, has been speaking publicly about the claim, but it’s not clear whether he will represent the sheriff in the case. Regardless of the merits of the case, it could be very expensive for Mirkarimi, whose assets include his $208,000 annual salary as sheriff, his apartment and a house in Guerneville that he still co-owns with his ex-girlfriend Evelyn Nieves.
Mirkarimi entered a plea bargain in his criminal case and didn’t call Madison to the stand at the Ethics Commission hearings, but a public confrontation between neighbors may happen yet.
Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at 6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.