Convicted State Senator Can Keep Serving, For Now
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A state lawmaker found guilty of voter fraud and perjury this week will be allowed to keep serving until a judge enters a formal conviction, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday.
Sen. Roderick Wright will give up his chairmanship of the influential Governmental Organization Committee while he awaits sentencing March 12, Steinberg said.
But he will not be expelled or asked to resign from office until a final judgment is entered by the court. Steinberg said that could be delayed past March if an appeals court stays the jury’s guilty verdict while Wright appeals.
Wright was convicted by a Los Angeles County jury on Tuesday of eight counts, including perjury, false declaration of candidacy and fraudulent voting. He could face a maximum of eight years and four months in prison.
“The conviction is neither final, nor has it been entered as a judgment,” said Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “Unless and until there is a final conviction for a felony, I do not believe it is appropriate or necessary to expel Senator Wright or ask him to resign.”
Wright was excused from Thursday’s Senate floor session for personal business. A message left for Wright with his Senate office was not immediately returned. His criminal attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said he couldn’t comment on the Senate action, but that Wright plans to pursue all his legal remedies. Steinberg said Wright told him he plans “a vigorous appeal.”
While the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office says the conviction would prohibit Wright from holding elected office for the rest of his life, Steinberg said the law is clear that the Senate itself determines who can serve.
Steinberg said he consulted with his fellow Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the Legislature’s lawyers and Wright. He said Wright also asked to be removed as chairman of a subcommittee on gambling and a select committee on job creation and retention, even though he will still serve on his various committees.
Wright, a Democrat, has served in the state Assembly and Senate for more than a decade. He is termed out after 2016, but Steinberg said he expects the criminal case to be resolved before then.
Wright was convicted of fraud by professing to have moved into an Inglewood property he owned so he could run in 2008 to represent the 25th Senate District. Jurors found that Wright actually lived outside the district.
He currently represents the 35th Senate District because of redistricting.
Steinberg said he thinks the law should be clarified.
“There is a lot of ambiguity” in the current law, Steinberg said, which has led some prosecutors to file formal charges against lawmakers and others to refrain from doing so.
For example, Sacramento County prosecutors will not pursue charges against state Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, despite reports by The Sacramento Bee that he appeared to be living outside his district, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said Wednesday.
The Secretary of State’s Elections Fraud Unit examined the allegations but informed the district attorney’s office on Wednesday that it had closed its investigation and would not be seeking prosecution, Grippi told The Associated Press.
Secretary of State’s spokeswoman Nicole Winger said she could not discuss specific investigations but said the office refers cases when it finds “sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.”
Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, chairman of the Senate Committee on Legislative Ethics, said Wright should be allowed to keep his office until he completes his appeal.
The decision involving Wright comes after the Senate Rules Committee stripped Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, of his committee assignments. Calderon has not been charged and denies wrongdoing, but was relieved of his duties based on a leaked FBI affidavit alleging that he accepted money in exchange for influencing legislation.
The Senate last expelled members in 1905, when four senators were ousted for malfeasance involving bribery, according to Steinberg’s office.
The Assembly has never expelled a member and considered doing so only once. That was in 1899, when an expulsion vote failed against a lawmaker named Howard E. Wright, who represented Alameda County, said Will Shuck, spokesman for the Assembly speaker. Wright had been indicted on bribery charges but was not convicted.
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