Lawyers for Assemblyman John R. Lewis asked a Superior Court judge Tuesday to dismiss felony forgery charges against the Orange County Republican, contending that the state’s forgery statutes do not apply to Lewis’ involvement in sending campaign letters bearing a phony signature of former President Ronald Reagan.
The motion, filed by defense attorney Clyde M. Blackmon, will delay Lewis’ arraignment until at least late April.
Blackmon contended in the motion that the crime of forgery requires an intent to defraudsomeone of money or property rights. Even if Lewis caused the fake Reagan signature to be placed on thousands of campaign letters sent to voters in 1986, Blackmon argued, the assemblyman’s action did not “involve deprivation of any tangible right to money or property.”
He compared the Lewis case to a 1987 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the term “fraud” did not refer to such intangible rights as the right to honesty in government.
“The necessary intent to defraud cannot be found based on a mere intent to influence the judgment or opinion of the voting public,” Blackmon wrote.
W. Scott Thorpe, who is prosecuting Lewis for the state attorney general’s office, would not comment directly on the defense motion. But he said his office believes the forgery charge will withstand the challenge.
“We believe the intent to defraud the public, in this case the voters, is covered by this statute,” Thorpe said. “We think the forgery statute is applicable to his conduct.”
Lewis, 34, of Orange, was indicted Feb. 6 by the Sacramento County Grand Jury on one count of forgery for his role in mailing the letters, which were sent on behalf of six Republican candidates for the Assembly in 1986. The White House denied that the endorsements were authorized by Reagan or any of his aides.
Before returning the indictment, the grand jury heard testimony from nine witnesses, including political consultants, direct mail specialists, and staff members of the Assembly Republicans’ campaign committee.
The transcript of those secret proceedings, which under state law could have been made public Monday, has been sealed while Lewis’ lawyers argue their contention that its release would endanger his right to a fair trial.
Superior Court Judge James Morris, who is handling the pretrial maneuvering in the Lewis case, ruled Tuesday that the transcript should remain sealed for at least one more week.
The attorney general’s office and lawyers for the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee argued against sealing the 350-page document. In papers filed with the court, the prosecutor and the newspapers contended that the publicity surrounding the case would not significantly deplete the large pool of jurors available in Sacramento County.
The transcript is expected to be politically damaging because it is likely to provide an insider’s look at the GOP campaign operation. The same witnesses interviewed by the grand jury told state investigators that Lewis and former Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale instructed their staffs to lie to White House officials looking into the incident.