SF sheriff in political thicket after guilty plea

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By PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The San Francisco sheriff has a political thicket to get through now that he's putting his legal woes behind him with a plea bargain in a domestic violence case that made international headlines.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment in exchange for the dropping of three more serious charges, including misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangerment.

The plea doesn't automatically disqualify Mirkarimi from office, but San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said Monday he plans to consult with city attorneys and investigate what disciplinary actions he can take. Lee does have the authority to attempt to remove Mirkarimi from office if the mayor believes the conviction rises to official misconduct.

"This clearly remains serious and troubling for our city," Lee said in a statement.

The sheriff has pleaded guilty to an "unexpected and very serious charge that has introduced a new set of legal issues that must be thoroughly reviewed," he said.

Lee could call for Mirkarimi's removal from office, which would require a trial before the city's 11-member Board of Supervisors. Nine votes are required to remove Mirkarimi from office.

Political commentators predicted that Mirkarimi's removal is a longshot. For starters, he still has several allies on the Board of Supervisors, where he served for eight years until January.

"He cut a good deal, and he did get a break," said Peter Keane, a Golden Gate University law professor and a politically connected former chief assistant public defender in San Francisco. "But it was well within reason for the prosecutor to also make this deal."

Keane cited Mirkarimi's otherwise clean criminal history and the extent of Eliana Lopez's injuries as among the reasons prosecutors sought to make the deal.

"Generally, domestic violence cases include much more physical and mental abuse that usually requires something more dramatic than a bruise," Keane said. "As serious as this was, it appears to be a one-time deal and the prosecutor did get a conviction for his actions."

The drama began when a neighbor called police after Lopez showed her the bruise on New Year's Day. The neighbor, Ivory Madison, took a video of Lopez discussing the bruise that investigators eventually confiscated.

Since then, Lopez has steadfastly maintained she was not a victim of domestic violence and told a Venezuelan radio station that Mirkarimi was the victim of dirty politics. She had refused to testify in the trial.

Venezuelans and other Latin Americans followed the case closely because of Lopez' celebrity. She is best known as Oriana Ponce De Leon, a villain-turned-heroine on the telenovela, "Amor a Palos," and she was scheduled to star this year as Venezuelan Independence War heroine Luisa Caceres de Arismendi in the film, "The Colonel's Wife."

Lopez met Mirkarimi in 2008 at an environmental conference in Brazil. They married after she gave birth to their son, Theo, in 2009. Court documents show that the two began arguing on New Year's Eve over Lopez' desire to take Theo on a trip to Venezuela after Mirkarimi's Jan. 8 inauguration.

"Eliana Lopez is looking forward to the return of normalcy in her life," her lawyer, Paula Canny, told reporters outside the courthouse. "Also, Eliana Lopez wants everybody to know that she loves her husband Ross, she supports Ross, and that together they hope to raise the best child in the world, Theo."

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Associated Press writer Jason Dearen contributed to this report.

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