On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli became the latest participant in California’s criminal justice system to send a strong message to elected officials in California that it is against the law to reside outside of the district you were elected to represent, and that the consequences of doing so will be harsh, and permanent.
Judge Lomeli sentenced Richard Alarcon, a former Los Angeles councilman and state legislator, to 120 days in county jail and 600 hours of community service after he was found guilty by a jury of four felonies stemming from the fact that Alarcon ran and was elected to represent a city council district in which he did not actually reside.
Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, were both found guilty, with the latter avoiding jail time but being sentenced to 400 hours of community service. The entering of felony convictions for the two Alarcons means that both are barred for life from holding public office again.
Alarcon had signed under oath that he resided at a home in Panarama City in the 7th City Council district, but he and his wife actually lived in a nicer home in Sun Valley, outside of the district.
Dozens of supporters and friends of the Alarcons had submitted letters to Judge Lomeli pleading with him not to sentence the ex-politician to jail time. Apparently such appeals fell upon deaf ears–though the judge could have sent Alarcon to state prison for up to six years, based on the crimes he committed.
Alarcon is the ninth politician to be successfully prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office for not living in districts they represent, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Just last month, State Senator Roderick Wright was sentenced to three months in county jail and community service for multiple felony convictions for pulling the same illegal maneuver as Alarcon — purporting to reside within the Senate district for which he ran and was elected, while actually living in a nice home in a tonier neighborhood nearby, but not in his district.
The recent convictions of Alarcon and Wright for lying about where they actually reside highlights what has been an accepted, if not common, practice in the State Legislature–of State Senators and Assemblymembers not actually residing in their districts.
57 District Attorneys around California should be following the lead of L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, and her predecessor Steve Cooley, and take the matter of elected public officials allegedly lying about whether they are qualified to run and serve very seriously.
Given Sacramento’s unwillingness to act, enforcing a zero-tolerance policy would be a good idea.
Allowing politicians to flout residency requirements creates the sense that it is within their purview to decide for themselves which laws they would like to follow.
Just last month, State Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. At the same time, his official Senate website was running a warning about the hazards of drinking and driving.
Still, a DUI arrest is not uncommon. But two of Hueso’s Democratic colleagues, Senators Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, are both under indictment by federal prosecutors for extremely serious charges of criminal wrongdoing. The State Senate has refused to take up a vote of expulsion. Their colleagues instead invented a new status called being “suspended,” which in all ways is similar to a forced paid vacation.
On Wednesday, State Senator Kevin DeLeon was sworn in by California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice at a lavish event in Los Angeles, where donors to DeLeon were reportedly be picking up the $50,000 price tag. Perhaps it would appropriate for DeLeon to begin by addressing the clear culture of corruption that exists within the State Senate, and about the notion that apparently a great many elected officials believe that they are above the law, deciding for themselves which laws to obey and which ones to break.
That said, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Image: Nick Ut/AP