Sentencing Postponed in California State Lawmaker's Voter Fraud Case

Sentencing day for Sen. Rod Wright comes as two other Democratic state senators are facing corruption-related charges

Sentencing was postponed Wednesday in the case of a California state lawmaker convicted earlier this year of lying about his legal residence -- the first of three unrelated cases against elected officials that cast a shadow over the Legislature.

The hearing for Sen. Rod Wright was postponed Wednesday to Sept. 12 after the defense asked for a continuance because paperwork involving a motion for a new trial was incomplete.

Los Angeles County prosecutors are asking that Wright serve six months in jail or six months of home confinement when he is sentenced by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy. They also recommend that the Democrat serve 1,000 hours of community service and never again be allowed to hold public office.

Wright's attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said Tuesday that his client did nothing intentionally wrong and deserves a new trial. If the conviction is upheld, he said Wright should be sentenced to nothing more than informal probation.

Prosecutors said in a court filing last month that Wright's actions "can only worsen the already jaded public perception of politicians."

That image has taken several blows this year. After Wright's conviction in January, federal prosecutors filed corruption charges against two other Democratic state senators, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco.

The Senate suspended all three with pay in March, ending Democrats' two-thirds majority in the 40-member chamber -- a supermajority that had allowed them to act without any support from Republicans.

In another case, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, was arrested last month on suspicion of drunken driving. That means 10 percent of the state Senate is facing legal challenges.

Wright was convicted of perjury, voter fraud and filing a false statement of candidacy for lying about his legal residence in Los Angeles County. He had said he moved into an Inglewood property he owned so he could run in 2008 to represent the 25th Senate District, but jurors found that Wright actually lived outside the district. Because of redistricting, he currently represents the 35th Senate District.

Despite a requirement that state lawmakers live in their districts, several members of both parties do not, yet the decision on whether to pursue charges is left up to local prosecutors. Members of Congress have no residency requirement.

The charges against Wright carry a maximum sentence of more than eight years in prison. Prosecutors said that with anything less than a half-year of confinement, "the perception will be that politicians are treated differently, due to connections or money, in the justice system."

But McKesson, Wright's attorney, said his client believed he was acting within the law and that jurors were confused between Wright's legal residence within the district and his home outside it. Moreover, jurors may have been left with a poor impression because prosecutors played up that Wright owns a Maserati and a Jaguar, he said.

"People are just distrustful of politicians, and then when you're talking about a politician who has done well financially, that just rubs people the wrong way," McKesson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They say, 'I don't have a Maserati, why does he have a Maserati?'"

McKesson said Wright should face no more than a fine and informal probation.

"This is not a case of political corruption," McKesson said. "Nobody is accusing Roderick Wright of selling his vote or taking money under the table."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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