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Calif. board to vote on suspended sheriff’s fate

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SAN FRANCISCO – After nine months of headlines and bitter legal squabbling, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's fight for his job could reach a conclusion Tuesday as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is set to vote on whether to remove him from office over a domestic violence case involving his actress wife.

It would take at least nine votes from the 11-member board to oust Mirkarimi, who was elected last fall and mired in controversy before his swearing-in ceremony. Five board members currently are campaigning to keep their jobs.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up 7-to-4 to keep him or 11-0 to remove him," University of San Francisco political scientist Corey Cook said Monday. "We don't know what to expect. It's been such a roller coaster that I can't even venture a guess."

The dramatic case played out for months at City Hall.

In March, Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi without pay after the sheriff pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment related to a New Year's Eve dispute with his wife, Venezuela soap opera star Eliana Lopez, who suffered a bruised bicep. Mirkarimi was sentenced to three years of probation, fined $590 and ordered to undergo one year of counseling and parenting classes.

The mayor then took the unprecedented step of trying to permanently remove Mirkarimi from office. Lee testified before the city's Ethics Commission in June that he would find it "extremely difficult" to work with Mirkarimi again, and said he thought Mirkarimi committed domestic violence.

In August, the commission decided 4-1 that Mirkarimi committed official misconduct, setting the stage for the supervisors' vote on whether to oust him.

Mirkarimi was elected sheriff in November after serving seven years as one of the city's more liberal supervisors.

Lopez, who starred in numerous TV shows and films in Latin America, seemingly put her budding career on hold to become a mother and the wife of a rising political figure in San Francisco.

Mirkarimi's woes began Dec. 31 when the couple got into an argument over whether she could travel to her native Venezuela with their toddler son, Theo. Authorities say Mirkarimi bruised his wife's arm during the fight with an overly firm grip.

The next day, Lopez turned to a neighbor, Ivory Madison, who later contacted police. Authorities eventually confiscated video Madison had taken, along with text messages and emails between the two women. The video shows Lopez pointing to a bruise on her right bicep where she said Mirkarimi had grabbed her.

When Mirkarimi appeared at his swearing in with his wife and son on Jan. 8, reporters asked him about the incident. He called it a "private matter, a family matter" — a comment that caused anti-domestic-violence activists to call for him to step down.

The couple has since reunited. They have said the attempts to remove Mirkarimi are political.

His attorney, Shepard Kopp, has argued Mirkarimi's guilty plea did not constitute official misconduct because the marital incident had nothing to do with his job as sheriff. In exchange for Mirkarimi's plea, prosecutors dropped three other misdemeanor charges.

"We see this case as a situation where the mayor is completely overstepping his authority by trying to remove an elected official from office," Kopp said. "There is absolutely no precedent for this. None."

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