County prosecutors said Friday they intend to retry former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife.
The two were convicted in 2014 of fraudulent voting and perjury. Alarcon served 51 days on house arrest. Both he and his wife, Flora, were also sentenced to community service, but their convictions were overturned in January by a California appeals court which found the judge had issued improper instructions to the jury.
At issue in the case was whether Alarcon and his wife, Flora, resided in the district he was elected to serve.
Prosecutors had said the two falsely claimed to live in Panorama City so Alarcon could represent that district, while they actually lived in Sun Valley. The Alarcons maintained that they had relocated temporarily while their home underwent renovation between 2007 and 2009.
The judge explicitly told jurors that if the Alarcons didn’t live at their Panorama City residence in the preceding 12 months, then it ceased to be their domicile, an instruction known as a "mandatory presumption" that isn’t allowed in criminal trials, Amy Jacks, one of the Alarcons’ attorneys, told KPCC following the appeals court decision.
Jacks compared the rule to a law school exam question, pointing out that it could be difficult even for lawyers to understand.
The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office has decided it still has a case.
“We remain confident that the evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that Richard and Flora Alarcon violated the law,” Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, said in a written statement.
Alarcon attorney Richard Lasting told KPCC he was disappointed in the DA’s decision.
“My hope was that when it came back, the DAs would take a look at what is essentially a different case that’s left for a retrial and make a decision that investing further time and resources was not in the interest of justice,” Lasting said. “Apparently that’s not currently their opinion.”
Alarcon is currently running for office against U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, whose 29th Congressional District serves Sylmar, San Fernando, Van Nuys, Pacoima, Panorama City and North Hollywood.
“We know very well that [this case] will be a subject of the discussion during the course of this campaign,” Alarcon told KPCC in March.
Lasting said he hoped to speak with prosecutors soon to see if they will reconsider. He said he was optimistic Alarcon and his wife will finally be exonerated, noting that jurors had actually acquitted them on 14 separate counts in the previous trial.
In its decision, the appeals court noted that the jurors likely harbored reasonable doubt over the Alarcons’ legal residence and that the judge’s instruction shifted the burden of proof on the defendants and away from the prosecution. The jurors found the Alarcons had not committed fraudulent voting in February, June or October of 2008, specifically because those dates were still within the 12-month timeframe the judge had mentioned.
To Lasting, that meant jurors technically agreed the Alarcons’ legal domicile was within the district.
“With the domicile having been established and without the faulty jury instruction coming in this time, I have some confidence [the retrial] will be successful,” Lasting said.
The next court date is set for June 24.