SACRAMENTO — State Sen. Roderick Wright will remain a member of California's upper house until an appeal is decided on his eight felony convictions for lying about where he lived.
But the Democratic lawmaker from Inglewood is being removed as chairman of the powerful Senate Governmental Organization Committee, which oversees gambling and liquor laws. He was allowed to keep his membership on the Senate's budget, energy and human services committees.
"Unless and until there is a final conviction for a felony," state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) told reporters, "I do not believe it is appropriate or necessary to expel Sen. Wright or ask him to resign."
Steinberg made his announcement after a closed-door meeting with his caucus, two days after a Los Angeles jury found Wright guilty of voter fraud and perjury. Prosecutors said he falsely claimed to live in his Senate district when he was elected.
Wright plans a vigorous appeal of the conviction, and attorneys advising the Legislature said the matter is not final until a judge rules on the appeal and imposes a sentence, Steinberg said. Sentencing is set for March 12.
If the conviction is upheld, the Senate leader said, he would support an expulsion.
"You can't have anybody convicted of a felony while in office continue to serve, but that's not the current status," Steinberg said.
Wright declined to comment Thursday. He agreed to step down from his chairmanship of the Governmental Organization Committee and two subcommittees, a change that will be ratified by the Senate Rules Committee next week, Steinberg said.
The leader of the Senate's minority Republicans, Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, offered no objections to the Democrats' decision Thursday.
"The removal of Sen. Wright from his committee chairmanship is appropriate," Huff said. "The Senate will be able to make more informed decisions once the sentencing process is completed in March."
But the delay surprised some others.
"Eight felony convictions is very serious," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies governmental ethics. "So the idea that the Senate is not going to do anything is a difficult path to tread."
Lew Uhler, head of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee, noted that Steinberg stripped Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello) of all committee assignments over bribery allegations, even though no charges have been filed.
Allowing Wright to keep committee assignments "is a sad abuse of the public trust," Uhler said. "He certainly should not be treated better than Calderon."
Calderon objected too. "I feel that I have been treated unfairly especially since I have not been charged with any wrongdoing," he said in an emailed statement.
Steinberg said that in Calderon's case, "the underlying allegations go to the very heart of what we do inside these chambers, inside this Capitol."
In Wright's case, Steinberg said, there is "ambiguity" in the law governing whether someone has established a domicile in a legislative district or is a resident of that district. That argument was made by Wright's attorney during the senator's trial.
Steinberg said the Legislature should act to make the law clearer.