Moral Mirkitude: Nixing the Sheriff's Pension Would Be a Feat

After working with Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, Mayor Ed Lee should know moral turpitude when he sees it.

The same goes for “official misconduct,” which Lee claims Ross Mirkarimi has committed, justifying the canning of the sheriff-in-limbo. Now, word is reverberating around City Hall that Mirkarimi's retirement benefits will be targeted as well.

That would be unusual. Stripping a pension from a city worker is so rare, the retirement system doesn't even keep track of how often it happens. Their best guess: “Around three times” in the past decade.

Per the City Charter, forfeiture of a pension can occur when a city employee is “convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude committed in connection with his or her duties as an officer or employee of the City and County.”

Applying this to Mirkarimi would be a neat trick. He has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment, which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010 ruled is “not a categorical Crime Involving Moral Turpitude.”

The closest the city comes to defining moral turpitude is “an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.” A city source tells SF Weekly it's “one of those vague terms lawyers use to ensure there will always be a need for lawyers.”

Many non-saints are still collecting from the city retirement system. Former police chief Prentice Earl Sanders was accused of withholding evidence that would have cleared convicted killers John Tennison and Antoine Goff — and in 2009 a judge agreed, awarding the men a record $7.5 million settlement. In 2010, Judge Marla Miller found Sanders knowingly allowed perjury in a separate case, resulting in Caramad Conley's wrongful murder conviction and 18 years in prison. An astronomical payout is likely. Sanders draws the third-highest pension of any city retiree, around a quarter of a million dollars a year.

Of course, Mirkarimi's pension questions could be rendered moot if he prevails in his attempt to be reinstated to his post. And he's convinced at least one judge he should be.

“He's gonna win, either in Superior Court or the Court of Appeal,” predicts Judge Quentin Kopp, a former city supervisor and state senator. Quoting from a 1980 Court of Appeal ruling, Kopp notes, “there must be a violation or omission of a proscribed act committed while in office.” Kopp pauses: “This guy wasn't in office.” Yes, San Francisco's definition of “misconduct” has been broadened since then, “but it doesn't matter,” continues Kopp. “The City Charter can't overrule California case law.”

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