Appellate Courts

The conviction of former L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon on charges that he lied about living in the district that he was elected to represent has been overturned.

Soumya Karlamangla and David Zahniser
January 20, 2016

A panel of justices Wednesday threw out the perjury and voter fraud convictions of former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, ruling that the trial judge had issued improper jury instructions.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal justices found fault with Superior Court Judge George Lomeli’s handling of the instructions, ruling that “we cannot conclude that the instructional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Alarcon, 62, said the case had been costly, both in terms of legal bills and in the impact it had on his political career. The former councilman, who lives in Mission Hills, attributed his defeat in a State Assembly race in 2012 to the bad publicity generated by the criminal case.

“I feel incredible. I’m very pleased that the appellate system works,” Alarcon said Wednesday. “We never felt we did anything wrong. It doesn’t diminish the damage that was done, but we’ll take the victory at this point.”

Alarcon, a veteran San Fernando Valley politician, and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, were found guilty in 2014 of lying about where they lived so Alarcon could run for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. Alarcon was a councilman until 2013, when he stepped down because of term limits.

Alarcon was convicted of three voter-fraud charges and one perjury charge, but acquitted on 12 other counts. His wife was convicted of two voting charges and one perjury count but acquitted on two others.

Instead of serving a 120-day jail sentence, Alarcon served time under house arrest. His wife was sentenced to community service.

“I’m just feeling grateful — grateful to all the people who never stopped believing in us,” Alarcon said.

UC Irvine law professor Richard Hasen said he isn’t necessarily surprised that the convictions were overturned, because the legal standard is so vague.

“Figuring out what counts as domicile … is so difficult, it provides a basis for plausible legal arguments, no matter what instructions a judge might give,” he said. “A lot of it is just so murky.”

To read expanded article, click here.