July 19, 2012
The Ethics Commission inquisition into whether suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is guilty of official misconduct continued last eve, and while the main star of the show was Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, it took a good two hours before she was called as a witness.
A bevy of reporters and City Hall politicos aplenty packed like sardines into the small hearing room, watching city attorneys question Mirkarimi’s campaign manager Linette Peralta Haynes.
The real action was downstairs from the proceedings in the overflow room.
“Callate pendejo!” a supporter bellowed after Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser asked Haynes if she had composed a letter on Lopez’s behalf. The crowd clapped and laughed.
The overflow room was filled with over sixty “Stand with Ross” supporters, all wearing buttons and stickers, as well as Lopez. Seated on fold-out wooden chairs and watching the proceedings on television, they booed and hissed when accusations were made, and hooted and whooped when Haynes made a good point.
Lopez sat there with them, just as incredulous as her supporters.
“She doesn’t know what she’s even saying,” Lopez said, gesturing to the screen as Kaiser fumbled a question and shuffled her papers while apologizing to the commission for not being more organized.
As Lopez sat and watched the proceedings along with everyone else, people came by to shake her hand, embrace her, or offer her a few words of support.
“The way that she’s trying this is to make everyone tired and sleepy,” Lopez said of Kaiser’s examination of Haynes.
It was just after that she left upstairs to take the stand.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith examined Lopez, first asking her repeated questions about her future work as an actress and Telenova star in her home country, Venezuela. As he led her through a series of questions regarding her current acting job, it was clear he was trying to get her to admit she had jobs planned for well into August. He eventually said just that.
Lopez didn’t bite or budge.
“The situation is my husband was suspended without pay, that is one of the reasons I’m in Venezuela. To have better life than we have here. So I’m taking care of me and Theo,” Lopez said.
“Now, Ms. Lopez, you’ve never considered divorcing your husband? Ever?” Keith asked. “No,” she said.
When Keith asked if she had spoken about divorce with friends, Lopez held herself still and paused before answering.
“We’re talking about Ivory Madison of course,” Lopez said.
Ivory Madison is the neighbor that Lopez went to after being bruised in the argument with Mirkarimi, who had left it by grabbing her arm. In tears, she went to Madison and vented everything that had happened. She says she believed Madison was an attorney, that their conversation was protected by attorney-client privilege.
That’s when Keith began to hammer. “And you are concerned your husband is a powerful man, powerful enough to take Theo away from you?” Keith asked.
Lopez described a family court taking away a woman’s four-year old son because she was from Puerto Rico, saying it was dirty. She said that she was scared. “After all of my research, he being an American citizen… he is in a better position than me,” she said.
The answer didn’t seem to satisfy Keith who repeatedly asked if she was concerned that her husband “was a powerful man.”
When defense objections were raised that Keith had already extracted a sufficient answer, he cut to the chase.
“I’d like to read you page two of the declaration statement, the incorrect statements are between 13-15,” Keith said. He was trying to show the commissioners that Lopez was contradicting earlier statements that she had made. At that point, Lopez’s counsel berated Keith, saying he needed to be shown how to impeach a witness.
“I’m quite aware of how to impeach a witness, and this is the way to do it,” Keith said.
The commissioners did not agree, prompting him to build a broader base for impeachment.
Keith started questioning Lopez about Mirkarimi grabbing her arm in their car, the incident that led to her bruise, the crux of the hearing.
“You told Ivory Madison that your husband was yelling profanities at you in the car?” Keith asked. “Well, he said just one thing, and I said ‘don’t talk to me like that,'” Lopez said.
When Keith began asking her again and again about whether Mirkarimi was the one to make their baby, Theo, cry in the car, she replied, “If you take them out of context… of course they sound completely different in a different context.”
Just after she mentioned context, Commissioner Hur rebuked Lopez for answering past the scope of Keith’s question, but decided to put the hearing on hold. Keith didn’t get to prove impeachment of a witness that night, and would have to wait until the next day for another chance.
Over, for now
“Did you see that smile? She was like catwoman! Rawr!” supporter Pedro Fernandez said, saying that Lopez seemed in control on the stand.
“They wanted Ross to be an egomaniac, pushing his wife around,” Tracy Lemmon – a Mirkarimi supporter – said, following the proceedings. A lawyer herself, Lemmon said that it looked as if Keith was trying to demonstrate that Mirkarimi was abusing his power to intimidate his wife.
As the night winded down, the forty or so Mirkarimi supporters filed out for the night, and Lopez made her way out of the courtroom flanked by her counsel.
Though Mirkarimi has been advised not to discuss the case with the media, he paid tribute to the outpouring of support.
“I just want to say thank you to the scores of people who have been hanging in there. From the bottom of my heart, all corners of San Francisco are represented – and you know what, it’s not about me, you’re here for Eliana today,” he said.
Later, as he watched his wife being whisked away from City Hall, Mirkarimi said, “It’s really wonderful to see my wife.”
Lopez is expected to resume testifying at 5pm today.