Convicted California Sen. Rod Wright defends accepting pay on leave
SACRAMENTO -- On paid leave as he prepares to fight felony convictions for perjury and voter fraud, state Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) said Monday he is finding it frustrating to be away from the policy debate in Sacramento and being stuck in a world of legalese in the criminal justice system.
“It’s challenging” to be away from Sacramento, he said in his first extensive interview since he was convicted by a jury Jan. 29 of eight felonies. “I have been kinda, sorta involved in public policy for a long time.” Prosecutors said Wright lied when he claimed to live in Inglewood when he actually lived in the upscale Baldwin Hills neighborhood outside his Senate district.
Wright insists he did nothing wrong and feels singled out by prosecutors when he says other lawmakers have lived outside their districts over the years.
“It’s one thing to say you took a bribe or you did something that you clearly know to be illegal,” Wright said. “ I am still at this point not convinced that what I did is out of what I have seen being done [by others] for 40 years.”
Still, after the conviction, Wright requested and was granted a paid leave of absence pending his sentencing hearing on May 16, when he will ask a judge to overturn the jury verdicts.
The senator said he is “very encouraged” by support he has received from colleagues in the Senate who have talked about the residency law being ambiguous and unevenly enforced. “I think many of them on both sides of the aisle understand,” Wright said.
The state Constitution prevents the Senate from withholding pay from a senator on leave of absence or suspended.
Asked why he didn’t decide to voluntarily forgo pay during his leave of absence, Wright said: “Why would I do that? If I were a police officer and I shot someone, I wouldn’t be asked to do that. There are no other state employees that would be asked to do that. Why should I be treated differently than someone who works at the highway patrol or the DMV?”
Wright said his own trial in Los Angeles was only the second one he has attended, and he does not like what he experienced because he feels the legal language and rules interfere with clear communication.
“When you go into a court, it’s a totally different venue where people don’t speak English,” Wright said. “If that’s not the venue where you play, your first challenge is just to become familiar with the lingo.”
“I make a living as a public speaker, in part, but I go to a place where I’m not allowed to do what I do,” he said of the courtroom. “It’s probably the most frustrating thing that I have ever had to encounter in my life. If you do try to speak, someone says you are non-responsive or raises another objection.”
Wright says he still reads up on state policy issues and has made calls to state agencies to get help for constituents, but mostly he relies on his office staff to help residents of his district.
“I’m going to focus a whole lot more now on those things I need to do to clear my name, but I still keep up,” on state business,” he said. “I still represent a million people who have issues with the DMV and other state agencies. We are still doing the people’s business. I’m just not voting as a member of the Senate.”