SACRAMENTO -- When allegations emerged that Sen. Ronald Calderon accepted bribes in exchange for action on legislation, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg stripped him of his committee posts, even though he has not been charged with a crime.
So Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, was asked by reporters why he was not removing Democratic state Sen. Roderick Wright of Inglewood from all committees after a jury convicted Wright of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud for lying about living in his district.
Wright was removed as chairman of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee and two subcommittees but stays on the Senate budget, human services and energy committees.
Steinberg said the conviction is not final until an appeal is heard.
“These are two very different situations and the facts stand on their own,” Steinberg added.
He 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 the case of Wright, Steinberg said there is “ambiguity” in the law about whether someone has established a domicile in a legislative district or is a resident of that district.
Still, Calderon said “I feel that I have been treated unfairly especially since I have not been charged with any wrong doing. Only Senator Steinberg knows why the disparity in treatment.”
“This is just another indicator that I have been and continue to be unfairly targeted and retaliated against,” Calderon added.
The central question in Wright’s criminal case was whether his property in Inglewood was his “domicile”-- a home, where one intends to stay and to return after an absence.
Steinberg said the Legislature should act to make the law clearer.
“This whole question of domicile, residence and where you live needs to be looked at by the Legislature and clarified,” Steinberg said, adding the Los Angeles County district attorney pursued charges while prosecutors in other counties have not filed criminal complaints in cases with similar circumstances.
Asked whether a senator should live in his or her district, Steinberg said: “I think there is a good reason to require a real, genuine and sustained connection to your district. But there is a lot of ambiguity about domicile versus residence.”
The state Senate leader announced Thursday he would not seek to expel Wright until the jury verdict is upheld on an initial appeal by a judge and the conviction is final.
The court could rule on an initial appeal and enter the judgment on or shortly after March 12, when Wright is next scheduled to appear in court to be sentenced.
Steinberg said that if the conviction is upheld, he would support expelling Wright. “You can’t have anybody convicted of a felony while in office continue to serve, but that’s not the current status,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg said the action he is recommending to the Senate Rules Committee is “the fair and correct thing to do.”
“Sen. Wright is planning a vigorous appeal, including a motion for a new trial,” Steinberg said. “A conviction is neither final nor has it been entered as a judgment. Yet a jury of his peers have rendered their part of the judgment. I respect that and take it seriously,” Steinberg said.
In addition to the chairmanship of the Governmental Organization Committee, which handles bills involving gambling and liquor, Steinberg said he agreed to Wright’s request to remove him as head of the subcommittee on gaming, and Senate Select Committee on California Job Creation and Retention.