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Ross Mirkarimi Wants San Francisco To Pay His Legal Fees, City Says 'No Way'

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Suspended San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi
Suspended San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ross Mirkarimi's hearing before the Ethics Committee hasn't been going especially well for the suspended San Francisco sheriff.

In a letter released to the media on Thursday afternoon, City Attorney Dennis Herrera rebuffed the former Supervisor's request to have the city pay his legal fees.

Typically, elected city officials in San Francisco are represented by the City Attorney's office; however, because Herrera is already representing Mayor Ed Lee in his efforts to remove Mirkarimi from office, Mirkarimi argued that utilizing the city's legal department would be a conflict of interest.

"The actions of your office thus far in these proceedings demonstrate that neither you nor anyone in your office could ethically represent me," wrote Mirkarimi in a letter to Herrera. "Without cataloguing every action you have taken, suffice it to say that you chose to represent the Mayor in derogation of your equally compelling legal duty to represent me."

Mirkarimi's letter was dated May 15, but Herrera claims he didn't receive it until June 5--well after the hearing had begun.

Mirkarimi is being represented by attorneys David Waggoner and Shepard Kopp. The sheriff, who has been suspended without pay, is seeking to have them officially designated as his outside counsel and therefore receive payment from the city for their services.

In a letter sent to Kopp and Waggoner, Herrera argued that the city is only required to provide representation for individual employees when it is specifically requested by the Board of Supervisors, when the employee is being sued by an outside party or for "acts or omission in the scope of city employment," conditions which Herrera argues Mirkarimi's case does not meet.

"Sheriff Mirkarimi's letter indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the official misconduct proceedings by stating that the City Attorney's Office 'chose to represent the Mayor' instead of choosing to represent the Sheriff," wrote Herrera. "Contrary to your client's implication, this proceeding is not a private dispute between the Mayor and the Sheriff. Rather, as the Superior Court recently explained in a decision relating to this very matter, 'the City Attorney is representing the Mayor in his official capacity with respect to actions he took on behalf of the City in accordance with a provision of the Charter authorizing the Mayor to take such actions.' "

"The City does not pay for private counsel to represent employees charged with misconduct," he added. "Your client's position as an elected official is no different and does not entitle him to that personal benefit at taxpayer expense."

While Herrera had little sympathy for Mirkarimi's financial plight, support has come from some unlikely places. In an April column for the San Francisco Chronicle, former Mayor Willie Brown wrote that Lee was wrong to suspend Mirkarimi without pay.

"Mirkarimi may or may not have a legal case to stop his permanent removal, but unless he gets some money soon, he won't have the resources to pursue it," wrote Da Mayor. "And on the salary point, I agree with Mirkarimi: He should not be suspended without pay. He should continue to get paid unless and until he ultimately is found guilty of misconduct by the Board of Supervisors."

Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a single charge of misdemeanor false imprisonment stemming from a New Year's Eve domestic violence incident with his wife, Eliana Lopez, that occurred after he was elected sheriff but before being sworn in.

After his conviction, Lee brought misconduct charges against Mirkarimi, which are being heard by the Ethics Committee. Once the committee issues it's ruling on the case, it would take the assent of nine of the eleven member of the Board of Supervisors to permanently remove the sheriff from office.

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