By TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez has become a symbol in a domestic violence case that has cast a shadow across the career of her husband — San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
Jury selection is getting under way in the domestic violence trial of the embattled Mirkarimi, who is charged with misdemeanor counts that he grabbed and bruised the arm of Lopez in front of their toddler son on New Year's Eve.
Nearly 200 prospective jurors were expected to file into a courtroom Monday in a trial that has attracted international attention.
Less than two years after moving to the United States, Lopez, a former Latin American telenovela star, blogged about her hopes and aspirations for her new, simpler life as a wife and mother, far from the bright lights of TV and movies.
Lopez was excited about living in San Francisco — "a beautiful and avant-garde city where millions of interesting people make things happen every day" — raising her son with Mirkarimi and teaching bilingual mother-and-baby dance classes.
"To try to be conscious of my life whenever possible, of what scares me, of what I love and what moves me," Lopez wrote in 2010. "To try to ask questions of myself and what surrounds me, to question myself and not wake up one day and see my son as a stranger, thinking that life passed me by. ... That is my goal."
Back in the spotlight, Lopez has become a symbol for anti-domestic violence advocates and the central figure in a case that has already separated her family and threatens her husband's political career. A video purportedly showing her discussing what happened has emerged as key evidence.
On Feb. 27, Judge Garrett Wong ruled the video could be used as evidence as Mirkarimi's attorneys sought a mistrial. Then Lopez's lawyers argued unsuccessfully against admissibility of the video after prosecutors released photo images from it showing an emotional Lopez with a noticeable bruise on her arm. Lopez's attorneys appealed, and on Friday a judge put a hold on using the video until he rules on its admissibility.
Lopez probably did not want this type of celebrity and Mirkarimi can't afford anything less than an acquittal, said Rory Little, a professor at the University of California Hastings School of Law in San Francisco.
"It's an unfortunate cycle for some victims in that they may regret calling attention to their partner's apparent brief loss of control," said Little, a former federal prosecutor. "But then again, we don't know what happened. That's what makes these domestic violence cases difficult to prosecute because there are usually no witnesses, except for the victim and the defendant."
Both Lopez and Mirkarimi have repeatedly denied the allegations. She went on Venezuelan radio in January declaring that prosecutors are out to get her husband.
She also stood by Mirkarimi as he was sworn in as sheriff, just days before he was booked at his own jail. And she later tearfully told a judge that she is not some "poor little immigrant," adding, "I'm not afraid of my husband at all."
But the judge left in place an order requiring the sheriff to stay away from Lopez, although he recently has been allowed to see his son.
Lopez is dejected that the case is going forward, said Paula Canny, one of her lawyers.
"She feels disrespected by the government," Canny said. "She has repeatedly advised them that there was no act of domestic violence, it was an argument. As a family, they're a wreck. This isn't supposed to happen in America."
Canny expressed doubts that she would allow Lopez to testify. "(Prosecutors) are trying to squeeze her to testify," she said. "I want a blanket grant of immunity that would cover anything and everything in federal court and in immigration proceedings. She's not testifying (otherwise)."
Prosecutors said that have no intention to charge Lopez.
Bay Area defense attorney Michael Cardoza said he thinks Lopez could be compelled to testify as the alleged victim. "I highly doubt that she will be allowed to keep quiet," he said.
Lopez, 36, has appeared in TV shows and films in Latin America. She is perhaps best known as Oriana Ponce De Leon, a villain-turned-heroine on the Venezuelan telenovela, "Amor a Palos."