Cooley refiles charges after judge rejects Alarcon case

Moving swiftly after a judge dismissed his case Thursday morning, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley six hours later refiled 24 perjury and voter fraud charges against Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon.

The new charges, which accuse the Alarcons of lying about living in a house in Panorama City so that the councilman could run for his 7th District seat, mirror the allegations in the grand jury indictment thrown out by Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who was ruling on a defense motion.

There was no immediate comment from Alarcon, who said earlier that he and his wife were “very pleased” by the judge’s decision. The couple’s arraignment was still to be scheduled.

Kennedy threw out the July 2010 indictment after finding that the prosecution failed to properly instruct jurors of their duty to consider defense evidence that purported to exonerate the Alarcons, who maintain their innocence.

Cooley disputed the judge’s reasoning, however, saying she ignored legal precedents in dismissing the charges.

“The grand jury transcripts clearly show that our prosecutors did indeed present evidence submitted by the councilman and his wife,” Cooley said. “The grand jury chose not to consider it, as is their right.”

Thursday’s flurry of court activity comes less than five weeks before Alarcon faces Raul Bocanegra, a former legislative aide and educator, for the 39th Assembly District seat in the June 5 primary. They are the top two Democrats vying for a Democrat-leaning seat being vacated by Bocanegra’s former boss, Felipe Fuentes.

The charges against Alarcon include two felony counts of filing false candidacy papers in 2006 and 2008, seven counts of voter fraud and nine counts of perjury. His wife is charged with three counts of perjury and three counts of voter fraud.

Alarcon and his wife listed a tract house in Panorama City as their new residence in 2006, just as he was preparing to run for the council after an eight-year absence. They said they only temporarily moved to a residence in Sun Valley while a major restoration was underway at the Panorama City house.

Prosecutors allege that the couple lived in the Sun Valley house all along and that the councilman in 2007 even tried unsuccessfully to have the 7th District’s boundaries redrawn to include the Sun Valley home, which is owned by his wife.

Thirty-one prosecution witnesses testified before the grand jury. The defense submitted documents purporting to show that the couple indeed lived at the Panorama City house. But Kennedy, in dismissing the case, said that packet of information was treated in a cavalier fashion by Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder and was not formally admitted into evidence.

The Alarcons had compiled a roster of witnesses willing to testify that the couple regularly ordered food, picked up prescriptions and supervised repairs to the Panorama City house during the time in question.

“I don’t know if Mr. and Mrs. Alarcon are guilty of these charges,” Kennedy said. “But I don’t think the exculpatory evidence that they provided was properly brought before the grand jury.”

The judge indicated that she had other problems with the prosecution, including a “misinterpretation of the law” as to what constitutes a residence in municipal elections.

The dismissal was seen as a rare victory. Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School professor, said judges sometimes dismiss one or two charges but tend to let a district attorney’s case proceed to trial, where jurors can hash out the evidence.

Harland Braun, who is representing Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former assistant city manager, on public corruption charges, said he’s had one dismissal in his long career. Civilian grand jurors, sitting for just one month, are often law and order citizens who give great weight to prosecution evidence, Braun said.