Lead Story West Edition

Appeals court denies former Sen. Rod Wright’s appeal

LOS ANGELES — A state appeals court panel May 24 upheld former state Sen. Roderick Wright’s conviction for lying about living outside the Inglewood-area district he was elected to represent.

A three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there were errors in Wright’s trial in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, along with the claim that insufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding that the former legislator acted with the requisite criminal intent.

In a 30-page ruling, the appellate court justices found that the prosecution’s evidence strongly suggested that Wright had a fixed period of habitation at the home outside of his district and that he had “no fixed period of habitation” at an apartment at the property he owned inside his district and that it was “at most, a transitory step for him.”

Wright was convicted in January 2014 of five counts of fraudulent voting, two counts of perjury by declaration and one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy. He was sentenced in September 2014 to 90 days in county jail and ordered to perform 1,500 hours of community service and serve three years on probation.

At Wright’s sentencing hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said the former lawmaker’s “home, his domicile, his residence where he lived” was in Baldwin Hills, which is outside of the Senate district Wright was elected to represent in November 2008.

“He created a fiction that was his domicile,” the judge said of an Inglewood property Wright had owned for more than three decades. “It didn’t pass the smell test then and it doesn’t now.”

The judge noted that the veteran Democratic politician is “no longer eligible to hold public office in the state of California because of the convictions here.”

He was suspended by the state Senate after his conviction, and submitted his resignation three days after being sentenced.

Wright surrendered in November 2014 to begin serving the jail term, but was released 70 minutes later due to jail overcrowding.

Wright’s attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, maintained that the senator had “followed the law,” telling jurors that the lawmaker had “established domicile” at the Inglewood property, where Wright’s stepmother was renting a unit from him.

Wright — who testified in his own defense — told jurors that he took steps to try to ensure that the Inglewood property was his domicile after deciding to run for the state Senate seat, saying he established tenancy in one of the units on the site.

Wright said he suggested that he and his stepmother share a house after he learned that she was renting out the unit he intended to occupy, telling jurors he made it clear to her that he would be “coming and going.”

Wright said he moved in his personal items, including toiletries, clothing and some books, and changed his voter registration to establish domicile at the Inglewood property, and did not consider the Baldwin Hills property to be his primary residence.

Under cross-examination, Wright maintained that he had “fixed habitation” at the Inglewood property, describing habitation as a “place where you have a legal right to be.”

“Habitation, in my mind, means a place I can stay if I choose to,” Wright testified.

Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd told the jury that the notion of Wright establishing his Inglewood property as his domicile was a “complete fake.”

Dodd argued that Wright lived in Baldwin Hills between 2007 and 2009 — the time period cited in the charges.