Capitol Alert

Voter fraud conviction inspires bill loosening oversight of lawmaker residency

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, file photo, Calif. State Sen. Rod Wright appears during a court hearing in Los Angeles. State Sen. Rod Wright has resigned after he was sentenced last week to three months in jail for lying about where he lived when he ran for office. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg accepted Wright’s resignation, which is effective Sept. 22. Jennifer Hanson, a spokeswoman for Wright, confirmed the senator submitted his resignation letter on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, file photo, Calif. State Sen. Rod Wright appears during a court hearing in Los Angeles. State Sen. Rod Wright has resigned after he was sentenced last week to three months in jail for lying about where he lived when he ran for office. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg accepted Wright’s resignation, which is effective Sept. 22. Jennifer Hanson, a spokeswoman for Wright, confirmed the senator submitted his resignation letter on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. AP Photo

Four years ago, Rod Wright resigned from the California Senate and served 71 minutes in jail after being convicted of eight felonies, including perjury and voter fraud, for living outside the district where he ran for office.

Wright argued that he had done everything necessary to establish as his legal "domicile" an Inglewood home that he owned and where he registered to vote. But using photos of another house in the upscale neighborhood of Baldwin Hills, with his Maserati parked in front and closets full of his clothes, Los Angeles County prosecutors convinced a jury that Wright actually lived several miles away.

The conviction upset many of Wright's colleagues, who point out that the definition of a "domicile," which establishes the eligibility of someone to run for a particular legislative seat, does not include the word "live" anywhere in it: "that place in which his or her habitation is fixed, wherein the person has the intention of remaining, and to which, whenever he or she is absent, the person has the intention of returning."

Among them is Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena who represents the district that Wright once did. He is carrying a measure this session that would effectively prohibit the sort of residency requirement enforcement that ended Wright's political career.

Senate Bill 1250, which is set for its first hearing in the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee this afternoon, would clarify that a domicile is determined solely by where an individual is registered to vote and no other factors — reverting to the longtime legal standard and overriding the precedent set by Wright's conviction.

"People are being convicted for doing what the law already allows and that's selective prosecution," Bradford said in an interview.

Organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union are opposed to the bill. California Common Cause wrote to the committee that it would establish a double-standard placing legislators "uniquely above the law" by giving them "carte blanche to lie about their residence for voting purposes," while courts have no way to review whether they actually live at the domicile they claim.

Bradford disputes that SB 1250 would allow candidates to run for office in a district where they don't live. He said it "changes absolutely nothing."

So why pursue the bill at all? When asked, Bradford walked away.

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