On January 28, 2014, State Senator Rod Wright was found guilty of eight felonies by a jury of his peers in a courtroom in Los Angeles. All eight crimes were related to the fact that while Wright had declared that he lived in a home that he owns inside of the 35th State Senate district, which takes in a large swatch of southern Los Angeles County, he actually lived in another home in a neighboring Senate district.
On Monday, July 7, Wright was granted a third extension on his sentencing, which is now scheduled for September 3. He was originally set to be sentenced in March, then in May, and then this month.
Wright takes the position that he is a “victim”–of both selective prosecution and also of a misinterpretation of California law as it pertains to legislator residency requirements. His position is that you actually don’t have to reside in the district you represent. Apparently Wright and his lawyers contend that the law is actually ambiguous, because the word “domicile” is used instead of “reside”–seriously.
Call it whatever you want, but it was apparently an easy decision by the jury, which determined that Rod Wright did not live at the home in Inglewood at which he was registered to vote, and where he stated that he lived when he filed for his re-election. While the eyewitness accounts of him being seen regularly at his Baldwin Hills home out of the district were clarifying, most damning was testimony from Wright’s tenant at the Inglewood property, stating that she had never seen him eat a meal or spend the night there.
Wright has asked for, and has been granted, these delays in his sentencing hearing, because his lawyers have apparently managed to barrage the judge in the case with some sort of monster brief to make a case for having his convictions set aside and a new trial ordered. In case you are wondering, Wright established a Legal Defense Fund that has raised literally hundreds of thousands of dollars from various special interest groups that have legislative interests at stake–and much of it was raised while Wright chaired a key legislative committee.
Never mind that it is the taxpayers who have to foot the bill for Wright’s legal theatrics, drawing out his case ad nauseam. Perhaps prosecutors could respond by ripping the page out of the Merriam Webster dictionary that defines the word “domicile” thusly: “A dwelling place; place of residence; home” or “a person’s fixed, permanent, and principal home for legal purposes.”
Speaking of taxpayers being on the hook–Wright continues to occupy a seat in the State Senate–and is still drawing over $7500 in monthly pay, and presumably taxpayer funded healthcare benefits as well.
Only a handful of Republican Senators have publicly called for his removal from the Senate–Joel Anderson, Steve Knight, Mike Morrell, Andy Vidak and Mark Wyland. A few Senators, including both Senate President Darrell Steinberg and Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff, have made it clear that they do not think Wright should be removed. Most have been silent, leaping at the opportunity to cast a “political cover” vote of suspending Wright with pay.
Of course, while all taxpayers lose out in this scenario, the biggest losers are nearly a million Californians who have no voting representation in the Senate. Wright’s failure to resign, and the Senate’s failure to remove him, means no vacancy, no special election, and no new representative for the district.
Maybe someone needs to look up “disenfranchisement” in the dictionary.
You can take the Wright case, and multiply it by three, since two other Senators–Ron Calderon and Leland Yee–are facing extremely seriously criminal charges. The felonies for which Wright has been found guilty, you could argue, are not as serious as those charged against his two fellow suspended-with-pay colleagues. But it is clear that all three Senators have crossed a line, past which they should no longer enjoy the privilege of occupying an office of public trust.
Apparently swaths of Californians no longer being represented in Senate committees or on the Senate floor is not a priority for Senate President Darrell Steinberg, who will not even allow a resolution sponsored by the aforementioned GOP Senators to come to a vote on the Senate floor, as “cover” is provided in some sort of undeserved collegiality to Wright.
Taken in its totality, this is where you understand that there is clearly a “culture of corruption” that is permeating the State Capitol. How much more clearly can a signal be sent that legislators are not just making the laws, but actually are above the law?
The latest continuance of Wright’s sentencing does provide yet another opportunity for a sixth, or seventh colleague to call for his ouster. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.