A Los Angeles jury today convicted Sen. Rod Wright on all eight felony counts he was charged with in the case that questioned whether he lived in the district he represented, potentially sending the Democratic state legislator to eight years in prison.
A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 12.
Wright will not automatically lose his seat in the Senate, according to Senate secretary Greg Schmidt. That would only happen if two-thirds of the 40-member Senate votes to expel him.
State law requires legislative candidates live in the district they seek to represent. Prosecutors in Los Angeles alleged Wright did not live in the Inglewood home he listed as his address when he ran for office in 2008, and instead lived in Baldwin Hills, a swankier community outside the boundaries of his working-class district. They charged him with eight felony counts -- two counts of perjury, one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy and five counts of fraudulent voting.
Wright pleaded not guilty, and argued he met all the legal criteria for running in what was then the 25th Senate District, including moving possessions into the Inglewood home he had owned since 1977 - where the woman he considers his stepmother lives - and registering to vote at the address.
A major focus of Wright's trial in Los Angeles Superior Court was the legal distinction between a "domicile" - a long-term home - and a "residence," or temporary dwelling. Wright said he bought the Baldwin Hills home in 2000 to use as an office for his real estate investment business and never considered it his legal domicile.
Neighbors testified that they routinely saw Wright at the Baldwin Hills house, while Wright's tenant at the Inglewood home testified she had never seen him spend the night or fix a meal in Inglewood, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Yet Wright testified that he never claimed a homeowners tax exemption, registered to vote or applied for a driver's license using the Baldwin Hills address. He cited a Tuolumne County case in which the court ruled that a local official could claim a home she once lived in as her legal domicile even though she had moved away.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said he would consult with lawyers and colleagues before deciding whether the upper house will take any action against Wright.
"Senator Wright is a well regarded colleague," Steinberg said, conveying visible sadness as he talked about the verdict.
Here's a video of Steinberg responding to the verdict moments after it came in:
PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright in the state Capitol on August 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua
Editor's note: This post was updated at 12:55 p.m. to include the sentencing date and a response from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.