Politics

State Sen. Rod Wright sentenced to 90 days in jail for perjury, asked to resign

California state Sen. Rod Wright appears at a Los Angeles Courthouse during a hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Wright was due to be sentenced Friday for lying about his legal residence.
California state Sen. Rod Wright appears at a Los Angeles Courthouse during a hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Wright was due to be sentenced Friday for lying about his legal residence.
Nick Ut/AP

California state Sen. Rod Wright, convicted of lying about his legal residence in order to run for office, was sentenced Friday to 90 days in jail and told by a judge he is no longer eligible to hold public office.

The sentencing was quickly followed by calls for the Democrat to resign from office.

"His constituents cannot continue without representation," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said in a statement sent to KPCC. "I have stated from the beginning my belief that somebody convicted of a felony while in office cannot continue to serve. I have therefore asked Senator Wright to resign."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, also called on Wright to resign or face expulsion.

Wright was previously suspended with pay from his post in the Senate. His Capitol staff and his lawyer, Winston Kevin McKesson, did not immediately return calls seeking a response to the demands to resign.

During sentencing, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy acknowledged that Wright was a good citizen but rejected the claim that no harm was done by his actions.

"There is harm," she said. "I wouldn't call this a victimless crime. The victim is the process, the lack of respect for the process."

The sentence came after defense lawyers stressed that Wright was re-elected by a landslide — even after he was charged in the case, and that voters who want Wright to continue serving would be hurt by a stiff penalty.

"All he wanted to do was be a good public servant and for the rest of his life he's labeled a felon," McKesson said.

Kennedy called the case a byproduct of term limits that send career politicians scrambling to seek new offices in different districts.

Wright was convicted of perjury in January for lying about his residence. It was the first of three unrelated cases against Democratic lawmakers that cast a shadow over the Legislature and cost the party a supermajority in the state Senate.

Wright said he moved into an Inglewood property so he could run in 2008 to represent the 25th Senate District, but jurors found he actually lived outside the district.

In his statement, Steinberg complained that election laws are interpreted differently by prosecutors in each county and said that inconsistency must be addressed.

The courtroom was jammed with friends and public officials supporting Wright, including U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.

During the hearing, the judge rejected Wright's motion for a new trial after prosecutor Bjorn Dodd said Wright further damaged the public's jaded perception of politicians.

"He trampled on the electoral process," Dodd said. "He played a game with it."

Dodd noted that Wright had succeeded in serving a six-year term in the state Senate, and "If all that happens is he's kicked out of office, then he likely gets away with it."

McKesson angrily replied, "I don't know in what real world losing one's career at 62 years old is getting away with it."

He said Wright would live with the stigma of being convicted of eight felonies, including perjury, voter fraud and filing a false statement of candidacy.

Wright was also sentenced to three years' probation and 1,500 hours of community service.

After Wright's conviction in January, federal prosecutors filed corruption charges against two other Democratic state senators, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco.

The Senate suspended all three lawmakers with pay in March, ending Democrats' two-thirds majority in the 40-member chamber — a supermajority that had allowed them to act without any support from Republicans.

Dodd had asked for Wright to serve 180 days in jail which the judge cut in half. She granted a stay allowing Wright to surrender on Oct. 31.

McKesson said he would file an appeal.

This story has been updated.