State Sen. Rod Wright will take an indefinite leave of absence until he resolves his legal problems, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced Tuesday.
Wright will continue to draw his $95,291-a-year salary but will not be eligible to receive the $163-a-day living expenses other lawmakers get. There is no provision in the state constitution that allows the Senate to deny a member’s salary.
Tuesday’s announcement comes several weeks after a Los Angeles County jury found Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, guilty of eight counts of voter fraud and perjury stemming from charges that he lied about where he lived when he ran for the state Senate in 2008.
Wright’s sentencing, initially scheduled for March 12, was postponed last Friday until mid-May. Some Republican senators, meanwhile, have pushed for a vote to expel Wright from the Senate.
“Today I met with Senator Wright and he requested an indefinite leave of absence pending the conclusion of the legal process now before the trial court in Los Angeles,” Steinberg said in a statement. “I’ve accepted this request and wish him well going forward.”
Wright sent The Sacramento Bee a statement saying he asked for a leave of absence “so that I may devote my full attention to pending legal matters.”
“It is a great honor to represent the people of the 35th Senate District. I remain hopeful that – through due process – I will once again have the opportunity to fight for laws that strengthen our communities and support those most in need,” Wright’s statement said.
Wright’s departure leaves the Senate with 38 voting members, including 27 Democrats, a bare two-thirds majority. Democrats’ voting numbers will soon fall to 26.
On Monday, Steinberg gave state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, a week to resign or the Senate would suspend him following his indictment on corruption charges last Friday.
Wright’s indefinite leave of absence looks to be a first. In 2009 and 2010, several lawmakers were absent for extended periods, all because of illness, and continued to receive their salaries and per diem.
Wright served in the state Assembly from 1996 through 2002. In June 2008, Wright emerged the victor of a four-way Democratic primary fight in the former 25th Senate District, an oddly shaped seat that extended from Inglewood to upscale coastal cities and included only a sliver of the Assembly district he had represented. Wright won an easy victory in November.
California law requires legislative candidates to live in the district they seek to represent. In 2010, though, Los Angeles County prosecutors charged that Wright lied when, running for the 25th District seat, he listed an Inglewood address on candidacy papers. In reality, prosecutors allege, Wright lived at an address in Baldwin Hills, about 1 1/2 miles north of the then-25th Senate District.
During a January trial, Wright’s legal team argued that the Baldwin Hills house was the senator’s office while the Inglewood address was his domicile. Wright testified in his own defense. On Jan. 29, though, the jury convicted him.
Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2. Laurel Rosenhall of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.