A high-profile domestic violence case in San Francisco has improbably raised an ethical issue more frequently discussed in judicial context -- disqualification requirements based on conflict of interest. Whether the San Francisco district attorney's office was the right authority to prosecute the case was at issue even before this latest disqualification fillip because the defendant is the current San Francisco sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, a former San Francisco supervisor. He is being prosecuted for an alleged New Year's Eve assault on his wife, Eliana Lopez, a former telenovela star. The main witness is a neighbor, Ivory Madison, in whom Lopez is said to have confided. The prosecution has placed a videotape made by Madison in evidence. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal (subsc. req.), two high-ranking prosecutors in the San Francisco district attorney's office have investments in Martin's husband's business, and have consequently been "walled off" from the prosecution. WSJ contacted two ethics experts about the case. One said the district attorney's office as a whole should step aside to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, even though the rules do not technically require it. The other said that it was a "close call" whether the D.A.'s office should pursue the case, but warned "You do not want the DA recusing from all cases where prominent people are targets."
The evidence from Madison is a key element of the case because Lopez is fighting the prosecution. Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based La Casa de las Madres has initiated a campaign for city-wide billboards in English and Spanish with the message "Domestic violence is NEVER a private matter."
This Los Angeles County Bar Association piece describes the state of the law on prosecutorial disqualification in California in 2007.