Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Court of Appeal Upholds Convictions of Ex-Senator Wright
By a MetNews Staff Writer
In this file photo, Rod Wright appears at a Los Angeles Courthouse for a sentencing hearing.
The convictions of former state Sen. Rod Wright for perjury and other felonies arising from falsely stating where he resided were affirmed yesterday by the Court of Appeal for this district.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sanjay T. Kumar, sitting on assignment to Div. Five, wrote the opinion, which was not certified for publication.
Wright successfully ran for the state Senate’s 25th District in 2008, claiming as his residence, under oath, an apartment in Inglewood located in a complex he owned. However, the Public Integrity Section of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office amassed evidence that Wright did not actually reside there but, rather, lived in a house he owned in Baldwin Hills, outside the 25th District.
He was charged with perjury, filing a false declaration of candidacy, and fraudulently voting in Inglewood.
Before trial, he persuaded Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy to drop the fraudulent voting counts on the basis of Elections Code §2026, which provides:
“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 registration.”
The prosecution sought a writ challenging Kennedy’s action. The writ was granted in People v. Superior Court (Wright) (2011)197 Cal.App.4th 511, with Kumar authorizing the opinion.
“The statute was enacted to allow elected officials to obtain a residence near Sacramento yet maintain, for voting purposes, their home district residence as their domicile. The question before us is whether this conclusive presumption applies even if the address listed on the affidavit of registration is not one of the legislator’s legal residences. We conclude it does not and grant the People’s petition for writ of mandate.”
Wright was convicted on all counts. The court suspended sentence and placed him on three years’ probation, requiring that he serve 90 days in jail and perform 1500 hours of community service, and barring him from public office for life.
Facing expulsion, he resigned from the Senate on Sept. 22, 2014.
Correctness of Decision
In the appeal from his conviction, Wright argued that the appeals court in 2011 incorrectly interpreted §2026. Kumar responded:
“Defendant’s arguments on appeal do not acknowledge the difference between an appellate decision that may, in retrospect, be erroneous and a decision that so obviously misapplies well established legal principles that it results in a substantial injustice. In doing so, his arguments amount to nothing more than an untimely request to rehear or reconsider a decision that was rendered almost five years ago. Reconsideration at this point, however, would run afoul of the principles of finality and judicial economy upon which the law of the case doctrine is based.
“Here, defendant had a full and fair opportunity during the prior writ proceeding to brief the issues concerning the proper interpretation and application of the conclusive presumption in section 2026. Defendant also had a full and fair opportunity to present his views on those issues at oral argument. And, assuming, arguendo, our subsequent published opinion manifestly misapplied existing legal principles, defendant had a fair opportunity to demonstrate that fact in his petition for rehearing. Defendant then had yet another fair opportunity to demonstrate that our decision was a manifest misapplication of existing legal principles during the proceedings on his petition for review in the Supreme Court, including the opportunity to present and argue the issues addressed in the amicus letter brief from the Office of Legislative Counsel which set forth Legislative Counsel’s opinions concerning the proper interpretation and application of the conclusive presumption in section 2026. Notwithstanding that amicus letter brief and defendant’s arguments in the Supreme Court, his petition for review was denied by a unanimous court.”
Kumar noted that since publication of the 2011 opinion, it has drawn no criticism from any appellate court and the Legislature has not acted to clarify the statute.
The jurist went on to say that Wright’s failure, in his opening brief, “to acknowledge, much less discuss candidly,” the prosecution’s evidence, he has “forfeited his contention that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding” that the unit in Inglewood was not one of his legal residences.
Wright also forfeited his contention that there was prosecutorial misconduct, in light of a failure to object at the trial, Kumar said. The ex-legislator’s assertion that Kennedy committed instructional error was rejected.
The case is People v. Wright, B260216.
Representing Wright on appeal were John W. Keker, Eric H. MacMichael, Steven A. Hirsch and Elizabeth K. McCloskey of the San Francisco law firm of Keker & Van Nest. Deputy Attorney General Michael C. Keller, of Los Angeles, argued for affirmance.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company