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State senator's trial may begin just before election

Roderick Wright, 60, is accused of living in a home outside his district and lying about his residency. A pretrial conference is slated for Sept. 26.

September 02, 2012|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times
  • Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, left, confers with Sen. Roderick Wright at the Capitol.
Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, left, confers with Sen. Roderick Wright at… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

Almost two years after his grand jury indictment on eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury, state Sen. Roderick Wright has yet to stand trial. The longtime Inglewood Democrat may not get his full day in court before voters decide this fall whether to give him another term in the Legislature.

Wright's next court date is Sept. 26, for a pretrial conference. Both sides say it's possible his trial could begin shortly before the Nov. 6 election, and they expect it to last two to three weeks. That would make it unlikely jurors could reach a verdict before voters make their own decision on Wright, who is heavily favored to win reelection against a little-known Republican in his solidly Democratic district.

The case against the first-term senator, who previously served in the Assembly, revolves around whether he fraudulently claimed to live in an Inglewood apartment complex, which he owns, at the time he registered to vote in 2007 and filed papers to run in the 2008 elections.

Prosecutors allege that Wright, 60, actually lived in a single-family house outside the district he was seeking to represent and cooked up an elaborate lie about his residency. California requires that candidates for the Legislature live in the districts where they run.

Wright pleaded not guilty on all counts. One of his attorneys, Winston Kevin McKesson, said last week that he expected his client would "definitely, without question" be exonerated.

L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman called the case "shocking and amazing" and said, "It will be a joy to present the facts to the jury."

It all began with a tip to the D.A.'s office, whose public integrity division began investigating Wright not long after his 2008 election. In September 2009, investigators searched both the apartment complex and the home, gathering evidence they would take to a grand jury the following year to win the indictment.

Prosecutors cited utility bills, belongings found at the home, legislative personnel records and interviews with residents of the rental units, including the woman Wright said he rented a bedroom from, among other evidence.

Wright's attorneys said he lived at the Inglewood address and used the house, in Baldwin Hills, for business meetings. The lawyers said Wright already had moved most of his belongings to an apartment in Sacramento, which he used when the Legislature was in session, by the time investigators conducted their searches.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen A. Kennedy threw out two of the voting fraud charges in March 2011, but an appeals court reinstated them a few months later. The court has been focused on a series of pretrial conferences, but the two-year gap between indictment and trial is not unusual, both sides said.

Wright could be forced from office if convicted, in addition to facing prison time.

McKesson said he was counting on a full acquittal and "I don't even think" about what would happen should a jury find his client guilty.

jean.merl@latimes.com

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