Wright sentencing delayed, buying him more time in Senate

ccadelago@sacbee.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Sentencing was delayed Friday in the case against a Democratic state senator found guilty of eight felonies by a Los Angeles jury last month for lying about where he lives.

The two-month postponement to May 16 is likely to give Sen. Rod Wright more time to serve in the Legislature. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has said he will not ask for Wright’s resignation or seek his ouster before the judge makes final the jury’s Jan. 28 verdict. That usually doesn’t happen until sentencing, said Shiara Dávila-Morales, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

“While the jury found Wright guilty, legally he is not considered convicted until he is sentenced by the judge,” Dávila-Morales said. “Therefore, the judge would ‘uphold’ the verdict when the sentence is pronounced.”

At least four Republican senators – Joel Anderson of Alpine, Steve Knight of Palmdale, Andy Vidak of Hanford and Mark Wyland of Escondido – have called for a vote to expel Wright. They contend the Senate cannot wait for Wright’s appeal of his felony convictions on fraud and perjury charges.

In an interview Friday, Anderson said he will continue to advocate that the Democratic supermajority allow a vote.

The delay “doesn’t change my position one iota in that I hope Senate leadership will work with me to allow a vote to come to the floor,” Anderson said.

Steinberg argues an expulsion could not be undone if the judge does not accept the jury’s verdict. In contrast, he said Friday that if Sen. Ron Calderon does not resign or voluntarily take a leave of absence after being indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple criminal charges, “the Senate will seek to suspend him.”

Steinberg did not address both cases in his statement Friday, but indicated that because the charges against Calderon “strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official,” they are more serious because they “cloud any interactions the senator might have with colleagues, advocates, and the public on issues within his jurisdiction,” as he said last fall.

Democrats would lose their two-thirds supermajority if both Calderon and Wright vacate their offices.

California law requires candidates for the Legislature to live in the districts they seek to represent.

Wright, a veteran lawmaker who once served as a speechwriter for the Rev. Jesse Jackson, claimed that he lived in the city of Inglewood when he ran for the state Senate in 2008. A jury found that he actually lived in Baldwin Hills, a more posh community outside the boundaries of the working-class district he represents.

He was scheduled to be sentenced on March 12, and the new date is May 16, said Winston Kevin McKesson, Wright’s attorney in the matter.

McKesson said sentencing was postponed because transcripts from Wright’s January trial will not be available until mid-March, and he can’t ask the judge to overturn the jury’s verdict until the transcripts are complete.

“I’ll file all the post-trial motions after I receive the transcripts,” McKesson said.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago

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