Wednesday, July 13, 2011
C.A. Revives Vote Fraud Charges Against Rod Wright
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday ordered the reinstatement of two felony counts of vote fraud against state Sen. Roderick Wright.
Div. Five explained the address in Inglewood that Wright had used on his voter registration form did not qualify as his “domicile” because it was not one of his legal residences.
Wright, a Democrat who represents the 25th Senate District, claimed he lived in one of five units of an apartment complex he owned on Glenway Drive, in Inglewood, when he registered to vote in 2007.
He also cast ballots in two elections after he was elected to represent the district—which runs through Alondra Park, Athens, Compton, Gardena, Florence-Graham, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Ladera Heights, Lawndale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Palos Verdes Peninsula, San Pedro, Watts, Westchester, Westmont, and Willowbrook—in 2008.
Prosecutors, however, alleged that Wright actually lived in a residence he owned on Don Milagro Drive, in Baldwin Hills, which is in the 26th Senate District.
The grand jury was presented with evidence that the bedroom of the unit which Wright claimed was his contained only the belongings of a female, and pink bedding. A tenant of the apartment complex testified that Wright was only seen at the apartment building to retrieve rent.
Wright also received an electric bill for the common areas of the Glenway apartment complex at the Don Milagro Drive address. A search of that location revealed numerous personal items and articles of clothes belonging to Wright.
The grand jury later returned an eight-count indictment against Wright, including two counts of fraudulent voting in elections he was not entitled to participate in, since he was not a resident of the 25th District.
Wright filed a motion to dismiss these charges, contending Sec. 2026 provided a conclusive presumption that his domicile was the Glenway address he had used on his voter registration form.
That statute provides that the “domicile of a Member of the Legislature…shall be conclusively presumed to be at the residence address indicated on that person’s currently filed affidavit of [voter] registration.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy found she was bound by this presumption and granted Wright’s motion in March.
The appellate court disagreed, explaining the conclusive presumption “applies only if the address indicated on the legislator’s currently filed affidavit of voter registration is one of the legislator’s legal residences.”
In an opinion by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sanjay Kumar, sitting by assignment, the panel emphasized that Sec. 2026 applies to a legislator’s “domicile,” which is defined by the Elections Code as a “fixed” place of habitation, where a person has “an intention of remaining” or, if absent, an “intention of returning.”
A domicile is more than just a “residence,” which is statutorily described as “a place in which the person’s habitation is fixed for some period of time, but wherein he or she does not have the intention of remaining.”
Kumar noted Sec. 2026 was intended to “address and resolve the issue of domicile unique to certain elected officials” whose duties may require them to have residences in Sacramento and in their home district.
Accordingly, Kumar said, when a legislator “lists one of his or her residences when he or she fills out the section of the voter registration form that requires the legislator to write the ‘ADDRESS where [the legislator] live[s],’ ” that should be presumed to be his or her domicile under Sec. 2026, but an address “that corresponded to a local McDonald’s restaurant, or the home of another in which the legislator had no fixed habitation,” could not be presumed to be his or her residence under the statute.
Kumar, joined by Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Sandy R. Kriegler, concluded the circumstantial evidence presented to the grand jury presented a legitimate and reasonable inference that the address listed on Wright’s voter registration form was not his legal residence and the presumption of Sec. 2026 did not apply to make that address his domicile.
The case is People v. Superior Court (Wright), 11 S.O.S. 3823.
It was argued by Deputy District Attorneys Irene Wakabayashi and Shirley S.N. Sun for the prosecution, and by Frederic D. Woocher and Byron F. Kahr of Strumwasser & Woocher, along with Winston Kevin McKesson, for the defendant.
With the reinstated counts, Wright is charged with two counts of perjury by declaration, one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy and five counts of fraudulent voting.
If convicted on all counts, Wright faces up to eight years and four months in prison. He could also be banned from holding public office.
District Attorney Steve Cooley said yesterday’s decision “validates our long standing theories on public officials living and voting in the district’s from which they have been elected.” He also said the decision “helps clarify the issue for those who seek public office.”
The district attorney claimed his office has been “100 percent successful in our historic prosecutions of these cases starting with the formation of the Public Integrity Division in 2001.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company