LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A state appeals court panel has reversed the convictions of former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora, who were charged with fraudulent voting and perjury by declaration.
A three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal cited a jury instruction given during the Alarcons’ trial in ordering the case against the couple to be sent back to the trial court.
“I was pretty confident there had been a serious error in the jury instructions,” one of the Alarcons’ appellate attorneys, Amy Jacks, said after the appellate court panel’s opinion was released.
She added that she was also “confident that the Court of Appeal would see the same error.”
In their appeal, defense attorneys contended that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli erred by giving the jury an instruction on domicile during the Alarcons’ trial regarding allegations that they had lived outside the district he was elected to represent.
In a 15-page opinion, the appellate court panel ruled that the jury instruction required jurors to determine whether the Alarcons had physically resided at the home inside his City Council district.
“Once the jurors found that defendants had not done so, the mandatory presumption of (the jury instruction) required them to find that home was not defendants’ legal domicile,” the justices wrote.
The panel found that it “cannot conclude that the instructional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The California Attorney General’s Office could ask the California Supreme Court to review the ruling before the case is sent back to the trial court.
Richard Alarcon was convicted in July 2014 of three counts of fraudulent voting and one count of perjury by declaration, but was acquitted of a dozen other felony counts.
The charges on which he was convicted involved fraudulent voting in the November 2008 and the March and May elections in 2009, and perjury by declaration involving his November 2008 declaration of intent to become a city council candidate.
He was sentenced in October 2014 to a 120-day jail term, along with 600 hours of community service, five years probation and barred from holding public office.
He surrendered in December 2014 to begin serving the jail term and was sent home after being fitted with an electronic monitoring device.
Alarcon’s wife was convicted of two counts of fraudulent voting in the March 2009 and May 2009 elections, and one count of perjury by declaration involving a provisional ballot in November 2008, and acquitted of two other counts. She was sentenced to 400 hours of community service and five years probation.
Deputy District Attorney Michele Gilmer told jurors that the evidence proved the couple lied about living at a home in Panorama City, which was within Alarcon’s city council district.
The longtime legislator — who served two separate terms on the city council along with stints in the state Senate and Assembly — insisted that he began living at the Panorama City home within the council district in November 2006.
Shortly after a search warrant was served, he told reporters that an intruder had caused significant damage to the Panorama City home during an October 2009 break-in and that he had returned to the house several times to try to repair the damage. He said then that he and his wife were temporarily staying at a house in an adjacent council district.
In July 2010, just before a grand jury indicted Alarcon and his wife, he said: “Because my wife owns two homes and we have stayed in both of them during the last four years, I can understand the confusion, but my permanent home has always been on Nordhoff Street (in Panorama City), regardless of where I may stay.”
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for immediate comment on the appellate court panel’s ruling.