A high-profile perjury and voter fraud case against Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife could be in trouble based on a judge’s warning at a court hearing last month, transcripts show.
In the March 2 hearing, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy sharply criticized the prosecution’s case and scolded Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder for being “very dismissive” of defense evidence submitted to a grand jury in 2010. Those jurors returned a 24-count felony indictment against the Alarcons, who have pleaded not guilty.
“What I got from reading the transcript of these proceedings was a kind of cavalier suggestion to the grand jury from you [saying] oh yeah, the target has some papers here,” Kennedy said in transcripts obtained by The Times last week.
“It was very dismissive, the way that it was done, extremely so.”
The district attorney’s Public Integrity Division alleges that the Alarcons lied about where they were living so that the veteran San Fernando Valley politician could run for the council seat representing the 7th District.
Beginning in 2006, Alarcon had listed a tract house in Panorama City as his residence, just as he was contemplating a return to the council after an eight-year absence. Prosecutors contend, however, that the Alarcons were actually living in Sun Valley, outside the district.
Kennedy, according to the transcripts, suggested that Lentz Snyder had stacked the deck against the Alarcons during the grand jury proceeding by making light of documents submitted by the defense that purportedly showed the couple was indeed living at the house in question.
The judge also chided the prosecutor for her reaction to witnesses that the defense said would testify that the Alarcons regularly ordered fast food, picked up prescriptions and shopped at the local Home Depot for materials needed to renovate the ranch-style home on Nordhoff Street. That house as well as the Sun Valley one are owned by Alarcon’s wife.
Neighbors, relatives and workers were also prepared to testify that the Nordhoff home was the Alarcons’ primary residence and that they were frequently there.
Kennedy also felt compelled to remind Lentz Snyder that with no judge or defense lawyers present during a criminal grand jury, the burden is on prosecutors to make sure grand jurors are aware of evidence that could undercut their case.
“There’s nobody there to, you know, balance that off....” Kennedy said. “You guys are running the show.”
The judge’s comments came during a hearing on a defense request to dismiss the case, but Kennedy put off a ruling until prosecutors submit additional briefs. The next scheduled hearing is May 3. A second line of defense -- that the Alarcons were legally “domiciled” in the Panorama City house even while temporarily residing in the Sun Valley home -- will also be argued before Kennedy.
Fredric Woocher, an attorney for the Alarcons, said the couple is heartened by the turn of events. They have been fighting the charges for 19 months and are ready to move on with their lives, he said.
“The councilman is relieved that the judge expressed concern about this,” Woocher said. “This is evidence that goes to the heart of the case.”
The simple two-bedroom Nordhoff Street house sits on a large corner lot set off from the busy street by a chain-link fence.
The yard is dotted with cactus plants and features a well-tended courtyard of pea gravel. Next door is a small day care center and down the street is one of the Valley’s busiest fast-food Mexican eateries.
But the 58-year-old Alarcon doesn’t live there anymore, and the couple has rented the home out, according to Woocher.
Alarcon, who is being termed out of his 7th District council seat next year, has already moved to a third house -- this one a three-bedroom in nearby Mission Hills and also owned by his wife. The latest move allows him to run for the 39th Assembly District, covering much of the same northeast Valley area he has represented for nearly two decades.
Lentz Snyder said last week that she would be filing documents that will show grand jurors were fully aware of their duty to consider the defense evidence.
She also said the district attorney’s office remains committed to the case but acknowledged the seriousness of Kennedy’s scolding.
“The judge did in fact express great concern,” she said. “It’s a hurdle. My goal is to try this case as soon as humanly practicable. We are ready to go to trial.”
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.