Judge refuses to toss voter fraud case against ex-L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon but urges deal
A Los Angeles County judge ruled Friday that prosecutors could continue to pursue voter fraud and perjury charges against former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife but encouraged both sides to resolve the case, saying a misdemeanor conviction would be a fair outcome.
Superior Court Judge George Lomeli made the ruling months after an appeals court panel threw out felony convictions against the veteran San Fernando Valley politician and his wife.
If Alarcon is retried and convicted of a felony, he would be barred under state law from holding elected office. Just weeks after his conviction was overturned earlier this year, Alarcon announced he would run for Congress.
Alarcon, a Democrat, is challenging Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) in the 29th Congressional District but has not actively campaigned.
Alarcon’s attorney, Richard Lasting, noted in court on Friday that the original 2010 indictment was tossed out when another judge ruled that prosecutors had failed to properly present grand jurors with evidence favorable to the Alarcons. Prosecutors refiled the case, which then went through a lengthy preliminary hearing, than a trial heard by Lomeli, before a three-justice appellate panel overturned the conviction, concluding that Lomeli had issued improper jury instructions during the trial.
“It is time for this to come to an end,” Lasting told the judge.
Lomeli rejected Lasting’s arguments but suggested a resolution that would end the case and allow Alarcon to continue to seek office in the future.
“This case lends itself to the disposition of a misdemeanor,” he said.
Lomeli set a new hearing date of Jan. 27.
Prosecutors accused Alarcon and Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon of lying about where they lived so Alarcon could run for a seat on the L.A. City Council. Alarcon was a councilman until 2013, when he stepped down because of term limits.
California law requires that candidates live in the districts they seek to represent. The state Elections Code defines residence for voting purposes as a “domicile,” a home where one intends to remain and return to after an absence.
The Alarcons were accused of falsely claiming that they lived in Panorama City, in the district Alarcon ran to represent, while actually residing five miles away in Sun Valley, in a different council district.
During the monthlong trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Alarcons were staying in Sun Valley while renovating the Panorama City home -- considering it their permanent residence -- and planned to return to it once the work was done.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Michele Gilmer presented evidence suggesting that the Alarcons did not intend to return to the Panorama City home, including blueprints from 2007 for developing the home into a multiunit residential complex.
The jury also heard testimony from a police officer who said that Alarcon had been gone from his residence so long that a squatter moved in and changed the locks. Utility workers told the jury there was no gas used in the house between April 2007 and February 2009, making it impossible to cook, heat the home or take hot showers.
After five days of deliberations, the jurors sided with the prosecution, saying they weren’t convinced the Alarcons really intended to live in Panorama City. One juror said at the time that it was clear Alarcon had sought “political gain” by saying he lived in that neighborhood.
Alarcon was convicted of three voter-fraud charges and one perjury charge, but acquitted on 12 other counts. Montes de Oca Alarcon was convicted of two voting charges and one perjury count but acquitted on two others.
Instead of serving a 120-day jail sentence, Alarcon served time under house arrest. His wife was sentenced to community service.
The Alarcons appealed the conviction, arguing that one line of instruction from the judge misled the jury.
Lomeli, the Superior Court judge, told the jury there is a “rebuttable presumption” that an officeholder must have lived in a residence sometime in the preceding year for it to be considered his or her “domicile.”
Alarcon’s attorneys argued that this instruction improperly led the jury to rule in the prosecution’s favor.
The justices on California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal said in their decision that Lomeli should have advised the jury that not living in the home for a year is not necessarily proof that the defendants weren’t domiciled there.
Alarcon is one of several politicians to be targeted in recent years over the issue of residency.
Six months before Alarcon was convicted, a jury in a similar case found former state Sen. Roderick Wright guilty of felony perjury and voter fraud. Prosecutors also have secured convictions in residency cases in Vernon, Huntington Park, West Covina and other cities.
Times staff writers Soumya Karlamangla and David Zahniser contributed to this story.
For more Southern California news, follow me on Twitter: @lacrimes.
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