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Opinion

Editorial: Former councilman Richard Alarcon is accused of violating the public trust. He deserves to be tried again

Richard Alarcon

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon talks with his attorney as he appears with his wife in Los Angeles Superior Court for sentencing on October 14, 2014.

(Los Angeles Times)

For former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, the reversals of fortune just keep on coming.

He served as a councilman, state senator and assemblyman before being convicted in 2014 of lying to voters about where he lived when he ran for his council seat. He spent 51 days under house arrest and was barred from ever holding public office again. But then, in January, the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal threw out the convictions, saying the trial judge had given an improper instruction to the jury. Two months later, Alarcon announced he would run for Congress, challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas. Then, last week, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey announced she would retry Alarcon on the same four charges the appellate court overturned.

Lacey’s decision was not universally praised. Alarcon’s allies insist that the continued prosecution is a waste of time and taxpayer money. His attorney plans to file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, and notes that the jury dismissed 12 of the original 16 charges. Legal analysts have suggested that the appellate decision will make the charges even more difficult to prove. And if the D.A.'s office does win a conviction, Alarcon probably wouldn’t serve any more time because he already did 51 days, but he probably would be barred from public office again.

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Even with those challenges, Lacey is right to pursue justice. Alarcon was charged with a serious violation of public trust. There are few requirements placed on candidates running for local office in California, but one of them is that they must live in the districts they seek to represent. Alarcon is accused of listing as his address on voter registration and candidate filing documents a run-down house in Panorama City in the 7th Council District. Prosecutors say he actually lived in his wife’s new, larger Sun Valley house, outside the district. Alarcon has said that he was staying at the Sun Valley home only temporarily while renovating the other property. Prosecutors presented witness testimony that Alarcon bragged that he was elected to his council seat without living in the district and then once in office, he was gone for so long from the Panorama City house that a squatter moved in and changed all the locks.

The D.A.'s office is one of the few in the state willing to investigate and file charges against elected officials for lying about living in their districts. And it is absolutely right to do so. No politician should be allowed to play fast and loose with the rules. Lacey should get credit for keeping up the fight, and for sending a message that fraud will not be tolerated.

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