A federal appeals court, concluding that former Sen. Paul Carpenter could win a reversal of his conviction on corruption charges, ruled Tuesday that the Norwalk Democrat may remain free on bail until his appeal is heard.
In the first significant legal victory for the former state senator since he was convicted last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Carpenter “has shown that his appeal raises a substantial question of law or fact likely to result in reversal or an order for a new trial.”
The court’s 2-1 decision, issued in San Francisco, reverses the ruling of the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Edward Garcia, who held that Carpenter was not entitled to bail because he was unlikely to win a reversal of his conviction on appeal.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento, which prosecuted Carpenter, expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling but said it was not unusual for defendants in white-collar cases to be granted bail while their cases are on appeal.
Voting in Carpenter’s favor on the three-member panel were Judge Stephen Reinhardt and Judge William Canby Jr. Judge Joseph Sneed dissented.
As a result of his conviction, Carpenter lost his seat representing much of Los Angeles County on the State Board of Equalization. However, voters reelected him in November and Carpenter is fighting to retain his seat, arguing that he was not convicted of any crimes involving his position on the tax board.
Carpenter was convicted in September on four counts of racketeering, extortion and conspiracy for using his Senate position to extract campaign contributions from groups with an interest in legislation.
The 11-member jury found Carpenter guilty after hearing testimony from a series of lobbyists and listening to tape-recorded conversations between the former senator and an undercover FBI agent who posed as a businessman seeking legislative favors.
In his appeal, Carpenter argues that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. The matter could take as long as a year to resolve.
Judge Garcia sentenced the 62-year-old politician to 12 years in prison. Two weeks ago, Carpenter reported to the federal penitentiary at Lompoc to begin serving his sentence. But his attorney, Merrick Rayle, won a last-minute reprieve allowing him to remain free until the appeals court could consider the question of bail.
Last February, Sen. Joseph B. Montoya was convicted on similar corruption charges. But the Whittier Democrat’s request for bail was denied and he is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence at the federal prison in Boron while waiting for his appeal to be heard.