The third California state senator charged with a felony in the last 12 months was the first sentenced to jail and the first to resign.
Last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy gave Senator Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) 90 days in lockup, fined him $2,000, ordered him to perform 1,500 hours of community service and put him on probation for three years for not living in his district and lying about it. He was convicted by a jury in January. He resigned today (Monday).
Wright was suspended from the Senate after his conviction (but not kicked out) and joined fellow Democratic Senators Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee from San Francisco on the sidelines, costing their party super-majority control of the Senate. Poll watchers think there is a good chance that Senate Democrats will re-establish the super majority—handy in budget and tax matters—in November’s election and possibly sweep all the statewide contests.
Calderon and Yee face more serious charges than Wright.
Calderon was the subject of a 24-count federal indictment in February for alleged bribery and corruption. He was accused of accepting more than $100,000 in cash plus other favors in exchange for backing legislation that would benefit a film studio and a hospital owner. But there was no film studio or hospital owner, just the FBI pulling off a sting against a member of a connected political family with a history of legal problems.
Yee, an outspoken supporter of gun control, is accused of racketeering, gun trafficking and political corruption. The man who also fancies himself a “Clean Money Champion” was accused of working with Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a self-described one-time gang leader who the authorities think never left the business. Yee was preparing to run for Secretary of State.
Wright maintained that he did nothing wrong by not living in a home he owned in his low-income district, referring to it as his domicile and the house he actually stayed at in tonier Baldwin Hills as his residence. It was a fine distinction that eluded the judge.
“It didn't pass the smell test then [when jurors convicted him] and it doesn't now,” the Los Angeles Times reported Judge Kennedy saying at the sentencing. The Times speculated, based on courtroom comments, that Wright might not end up spending any time in jail in light of overcrowded jail conditions, his clean record and the type of nonviolent crime he committed.
Kennedy said she thought term limits, which force politicians to regularly seek other offices, pressured them to find ways around California’s district residency requirements for politicians. It is a requirement that federal law does not impose on congressional office seekers. State politicians have also run afoul of residency requirements when their districts were redrawn.
Some critics of the state’s residency requirement think it is vague, but Judge Kennedy said Wright understood the law and displayed “arrogance” by acting as if it didn’t apply to him. The Associated Press said she pretty much called him a liar.
Governor Jerry Brown and State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) both called for Wright to resign. It seems uncertain whether the law, which bars felons from seeking political office, would compel him to leave an office he already holds.