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San Francisco sheriff in domestic abuse case to face ethics charge

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi appears at the Superior Court for the start of his trial on domestic abuse charges in San Francisco, California in February.

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Tuesday he would pursue an ethics probe of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi that could remove him from office, turning a high-profile domestic abuse case into a political showdown. Mirkarimi — a long time progressive politician in the city — said he had no plans to resign despite pressure to do so, coming even from some of his ideological allies.

On Monday, Mirkarimi accepted a plea deal in a case involving a New Year's Eve dispute with his wife, Eliana Lopez, that left her arm bruised. Under the deal, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor "false imprisonment" charge, which allowed him to continue carrying a gun. Mirkarimi had signaled that he would remain in his post, to which he was elected in November.

Mirkarimi, 50, was sentenced to three years' probation, 52 weeks of domestic violence intervention classes, 100 hours of community service and a small fine for one misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment.

In a private meeting between Lee and Mirkarimi after the sentencing on Monday, the mayor told the sheriff to step down within 24 hours or face an official misconduct charge and possibly forced removal from office, the sheriff's attorney, Lidia Stiglich, told The Associated Press.

"I'm not aware of any plans for the sheriff to resign," Stiglich said earlier Tuesday, apparently triggering the mayor's announcement. "I'm disappointed it's proceeding in this fashion. I think it should be left to the voters."

Mirkarimi said his actions on New Year's Eve that left his wife's arm bruised did not constitute official misconduct, according to The Associated Press.

Using administrative procedures to oust Mirkarimi is not a slam dunk, said Joe Eskenazi, political reporter for SF Weekly.

Under the City Charter, he noted, official misconduct is defined as "any wrongful behavior by a public officer in relation to the duties of his or her office..."

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Even though Mirkarimi has admitted guilt to wrongdoing, it's hard to see it as job-related, in his view, Eskenazi said.

"But the legal and political lines are going to be blurred because he is politically radioactive right now and nobody will want to step up and support him," said Eskenazi.

If city attorneys nonetheless find a way to charge him with official misconduct, a vote by the Board of Supervisors would make the final determination. Nine of the 11 supervisors would have to vote in favor of his ouster for it to go through.

Though Mirkarimi had a reputation for being an effective member of the Board of Supervisors, where he served for seven years prior to his 2011 election as sheriff, the domestic abuse case has put the board under enormous pressure to turn against him, especially in an election year, said Eskenazi.

"Even people who like him would prefer to see him out and out soon," he said. "Even people who are his ideological allies. There’s not a lot of support out there among the people you would want to have."

If he manages to survive an ethics challenge, Mirkarimi could also face a recall by San Francisco voters this summer.

As the city turns against the once promising political figure, Mirkarimi's wife is advocating for him.

"Eliana Lopez is not afraid of Ross, Eliana Lopez supports Ross," said Paula Canny, attorney for Lopez, speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle. "She absolutely wants Ross to remain in office."

The Associated Press and msnbc.com's Kari Huus contributed to this report.

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