California Sen. Rod Wright’s ‘arrogance’ cited by judge at sentencing
Democratic state Sen. Roderick D. Wright, convicted earlier this year on felony perjury and voting fraud charges, was sentenced Friday to 90 days in county jail and banned for life from holding public office.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, after turning down Wright’s request for a new trial, also sentenced the senator to three years’ probation and 1,500 hours of community service. He must also pay $2,000 in restitution.
He is scheduled to begin serving his sentence Oct. 31.
Some in the courtroom speculated that Wright would not serve any jail time, given his heretofore clean record, the nonviolent nature of his crime and the severe crowding in county jail facilities.
Wright did not speak with reporters after his sentencing, but one of his attorneys, Winston Kevin McKesson, said he would appeal the case.
Wright, 62, who represents an Inglewood-area district, was convicted in January on eight felony counts in a case that centered on whether he had lied to qualify for office.
During the trial, prosecutors said, and jurors agreed, that Wright had contrived to make it appear that he lived in a rental complex he owns in Inglewood in order to run for the district’s state Senate seat in 2008.
His true residence, or “domicile” under the state Elections Code, was a Baldwin Hills house outside the district, prosecutors said. Candidates for state offices are required to live in the districts they seek to represent.
Wright said he believed he had taken the necessary steps to establish the Inglewood property as his domicile and had not intended to deceive voters when he arranged to rent a bedroom in the unit occupied by a tenant he considered his stepmother.
But prosecutors offered evidence that the lawmaker had moved only a few personal belongings to the Inglewood address and spent most of his time before winning office at the Baldwin Hills house.
And the judge made it clear Friday she didn’t buy Wright’s arguments.
“It didn’t pass the smell test and it doesn’t now,” Kennedy said. She added that there was an “arrogance” in Wright’s actions in trying to circumvent the law, an assumption “that the law doesn’t apply to him ... the law applies to all of us.”
She also said she believed term limits were prompting some politicians to bend the rules in their “scramble” to find the next office to seek.
Several of Wright’s supporters in the courtroom gasped when the judge ordered Wright to spend time in jail. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters for whom Wright had once worked, state Sen. Holly Mitchell and Assemblyman Steve Bradford, all Los Angeles-area Democrats, showed up for the sentencing, along with a host of others, including a woman, dabbing at tears, who identified herself Wright’s godmother.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bjorn Dodd had asked that Wright be given six months in jail but said after court that he was satisfied with the lesser sentence.
It was not immediately clear whether Wright must now step down from his Senate seat or whether he would be expelled by a two-thirds vote of his colleagues.
Prosecutors used evidence uncovered in 2009 searches of the Inglewood and Baldwin Hills properties to help win a county grand jury indictment of Wright in September 2010.
Kennedy had granted several sentencing postponements as Wright’s attorneys asked for additional time to prepare paperwork seeking a new trial and prosecutors asked for time to respond to the defense team’s arguments. But she said in granting the latest delay, on Sept. 3, that it would be the last.
Wright was suspended with pay from the state Senate in March, along with two other Democratic state senators facing criminal charges in separate cases, Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello.
Richard Alarcon, a former state legislator and Los Angeles city councilman from the east San Fernando Valley, and his wife were convicted recently, but not yet sentenced, in a case similar to Wright’s. The Alarcons said they had done nothing wrong and are seeking a new trial.
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