September 12, 2014 / 5:14 PM / 3 years ago

California state senator gets jail time in voter fraud case

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California state senator convicted on eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud was sentenced to 90 days in jail on Friday in one of three ethics scandals involving Democratic lawmakers in the most populous U.S. state.

Senator Roderick Wright of Los Angeles was convicted in January of lying about whether he lived in the district he sought to represent, the first in a string of criminal proceedings against three state senators this year that effectively cost Democrats their two-thirds majority in the California Senate.

"This is not what I call a victimless crime," said Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who denied Wright's request for a new trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.

She said Wright was no longer eligible to hold elective office in California.

Wright's conviction is a sensitive issue for other lawmakers, some of whom say the law is ambiguous about where they must live, even as redistricting changes the boundaries of longtime districts, prompting some to move to new homes after each change.

In July, former Democratic state lawmaker and onetime Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon was convicted in Los Angeles for lying about where he lived in order to seek another term on the council. He is seeking a new trial.

Candidates for Congress are not required to live in their districts, but state lawmakers are mandated to do so under California law. Prosecution under the law is somewhat rare, however.

Wright's lawyer, Winston McKesson, said he would file an appeal but did not speak further with reporters.

Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg, who had previously refrained from asking Wright to resign, called on him to do so on Friday.

Wright had contended that a state law requiring lawmakers to keep their domiciles in the district that they represent actually allows candidates to live elsewhere. Wright owned a home in the modest suburb of Inglewood, but lived in the affluent Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Both the jury and judge rejected his distinction between a domicile and a residence.

"He created a fiction that was his domicile," the judge said. "It didn't pass the smell test then and it doesn't now."

In addition to 90 days in jail, Kennedy also sentenced Wright to 1,500 hours of community service and three years probation, and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine.

During the hearing, Wright sat mostly with his chin in his hands, looking down at the defense table. He said nothing other than to answer, "Yes," when Kennedy asked if he understood the terms of his probation.

Wright is one of three state senators whose legal woes led them to be suspended with pay from the legislature this year.

Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, was suspended after his indictment on racketeering, wire fraud and conspiracy charges to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Democrat Ron Calderon, part of a decades-old California political dynasty, is fighting two dozen counts of bribery, fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

Reporting by Dana Feldman; Editing by Sharon Bernstein, Bill Trott, Bernard Orr and Eric Beech

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