Tuesday, October 2, 2012
U.S. High Court Leaves Ex-Vernon Mayor’s Conviction Intact
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday left standing the conviction of the former mayor of Vernon and his wife for falsely claiming to live in California’s least populous city.
The justices, without comment or dissent, denied certiorari petitions by Leonis and Dominica Malburg.
This district’s Court of Appeal last year, in an unpublished opinion, rejected claims of insufficient evidence to support convictions for conspiracy, fraudulent voting, making a false declaration of candidacy, perjury and assisting an unqualified voter. The panel reversed convictions on voter registration fraud charges, saying that a letter in which Leonis Malburg told the registrar of voters that he lived in Vernon was not an affidavit of registration or a voter registration form, so that the statute he was convicted of violating did not apply.
The panel also reversed the conviction of Dominica Malburg on one voter registration fraud count involving a letter she returned to the registrar’s office, but upheld her conviction on one count each of conspiracy and fraudulent voting.
Leonis Malburg, whose grandfather founded the city, held elective office in Vernon for more than 50 years, including more than 30 years as mayor, before resigning in the summer of 2009. He was convicted that December in a non-jury trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson.
The Court of Appeal found that it was “clear” that Leonis Malburg’s domicile was in Hancock Park. “That their family and life activities were centered in Hancock Park is evidence of an intent to make Hancock Park their permanent home, especially when combined with evidence that Leonis went to and stayed in Vernon for business purposes, and Dominica rarely went to Vernon for any purpose,” Justice Frank Y. Jackson wrote for the Court of Appeal.
The California Supreme Court denied review earlier this year. Leonis Malburg was sentenced in January 2010 to five years probation and ordered to pay $579,000 in fines and restitution, while Dominica Malburg was placed on probation for three years and ordered to pay nearly $40,000. The trial judge ruled that the couple did not live in Vernon and said that the former mayor knew he was ineligible to be a candidate and knew he and his wife were ineligible to vote in Vernon.
“I think that these are serious crimes involving fraud and dishonesty which merit serious punishment,” Johnson said in sentencing the former mayor,” according to news accounts at the time, while noting that he did not give Malburg jail time because of his age—80 at the time—and medical condition. He also was barred from holding public office or any position within the city’s government.
The ex-mayor’s presence in Vernon was “purely related to business” involving his personal business and his role in the city government, and his use of an apartment in Vernon was “purely for convenience in carrying out his business activities,” Johnson said.
The case led Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, to sponsor legislation disincorporating the city. The bill passed the Assembly overwhelmingly, but was rejected in the Senate at the urging of current officials, who said they are reforming the local government.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company