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Senator Declines to Explain Decision to Withhold Vote

An Inland Empire senator declined today to say why he chose not to act on a measure that could have ultimately led to the expulsion of a colleague recently convicted of multiple felonies.

Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, was one of five state senators who abstained from voting Thursday on a proposal regarding the appropriate steps to take toward the possible removal of Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood.

Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, and Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, introduced a measure demanding the immediate expulsion of Wright from the Senate. Their resolution  noted that Wright was convicted Jan. 28 of perjury, voter fraud and signing a false oath — violations that make him ineligible to serve any longer.     “Folks … keep asking me how the Senate can place itself above the law,” Vidak said. “If being convicted by a jury of eight felonies doesn’t disqualify someone from serving in public office, what does?”

Instead of permitting a vote on SR 29, Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, sought to have the proposal referred to the Senate Rules Committee for further analysis. The result was a 21-13 floor vote in favor of sending the resolution to the committee.

All 11 Republican senators, plus two Democrats — Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, and Cathleen Galgiani, D-Modesto — opposed the action.

Senators Roth, Wright, Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, abstained.

Roth would not speak to City News Service about his decision, referring inquires instead to his media spokesman, Chuck Daldorff.

“This is a very difficult situation,” Dalldorff said. “Procedurally, this kind of thing rarely happens at all. That’s why this is so difficult.”

When asked specifically why his boss would not participate in Thursday’s voting, Dalldorf replied, “The senator is not willing to comment at this moment.”

Dalldorf said Roth is not personally associated with Wright, but interacts with him routinely in the course of legislative business.

Roth is a former Riverside attorney and a U.S. Air Force Reserve judge advocate general, or JAG. This is his first time in an elected position of any kind, according to Dalldorf.

Senate Republicans characterized the referral vote Thursday as a delaying tactic designed to ensure their Democrat colleagues maintain “supermajority” status — or a two-thirds voting bloc that can override any opposition to certain actions, such as whether to hike taxes.

Wright is now on voluntary paid leave.

“This is a sad day for all Californians because the minority’s voice is being silenced on the Senate floor,” Anderson said of the vote.

Knight said there was no question the entire Senate — without waiting for a committee’s opinion — should be “afforded the opportunity to expel a member who has violated legal and ethical boundaries.”

“Anything else does a disservice to California voters,” he said.

The resolution noted that on two previous occasions, state lawmakers convicted of felonies were shown the door within two or three weeks of the conclusion of their trials. Sen. Joe Montoya, D-Whittier, was convicted of felonies related to a federal political corruption probe. Faced with expulsion, Montoya resigned a week after his February 1990 conviction.

In 1994, Sen. Frank Hill, R-Whittier, was convicted of money laundering and other felonies. Less than two weeks later, the Senate Rules Committee recommended his expulsion, and a week after that — with a full Senate vote imminent — Hill resigned.

The Senate can expel members on a two-thirds floor vote.

Steinberg told reporters that he had qualms about taking action against Wright until a trial judge affirms the jury’s verdicts and goes ahead with sentencing in May. Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd told jurors during Wright’s trial that the senator used an Inglewood property within his district as a “prop,” but actually lived in Baldwin Hills.

Meantime, another Senate Democrat, Calderon, is facing the prospect of suspension in the wake of a 24-count federal indictment against him for his alleged acceptance of a $100,000 cash bribe.

Roth, who is chair of the Senate’s Ethics Committee, has scheduled a hearing on the Calderon case for 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to Dalldorf.

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