Three California Legislators Suspended For Alleged Criminal Activity

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

California Senate SealAccording to an article in the Associated Press the California Senate voted Friday to suspend three lawmakers caught up in separate criminal cases after the latest one to be hauled into court refused to step down, the most serious house-cleaning action the chamber has taken in more than a century.

Friday’s 28-1 vote in the 40-member chamber came amid one of the most severe ethical crises in modern times for the Legislature in the nation’s most populous state. Later in the day, Gov. Jerry Brown also called on the three lawmakers to resign.

The resolution prevents Democratic Senators Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, who face federal corruption charges, and Democratic Sen. Rod Wright, who is awaiting sentencing in a voter fraud case, from exercising any power of their office until the criminal cases against them have been resolved. Even so, they will continue receiving their $95,291 annual salaries. Senator Leland Yee was the subject of an article on the Jonathan Turley website HERE

The actions of the California Senate is laudable in many ways, but is this also a sign of a greater or endemic problem in the California legislature and formerly lax oversight of some unsavory dealings of legislators?

Yee was arrested and released on bond Wednesday following a series of raids in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. He is accused of accepting more than $42,000 to provide introductions, influence legislation and for introducing an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker, according to an FBI affidavit that says Yee was also known as “Uncle Leland.”

Investigators said Yee discussed helping the agent get weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines to help pay off campaign debts.

Wright was convicted of voter fraud and perjury and faces sentencing in May. Calderon faces federal charges for allegedly accepting $100,000 in bribes for friends and family in exchange for pushing certain bills.

Senator Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles  defended the chamber’s reputation and noted that none of the bills Calderon pushed as a favor to those who were giving him cash passed the Senate.

Leland Yee
Leland Yee

Yee’s attorney, Paul F. DeMeester, issued a statement immediately after the Senate vote saying suspension was “the right step for now” because it acknowledges the presumption of innocence. Representatives for Calderon and Wright said they would have no immediate comment on the suspension vote.

Senate officials will go office-by-office to emphasize ethical conduct and to ask staffers to come forward if they are aware of any unethical or potentially criminal activity by lawmakers or Senate staffers.

Senator Joel Anderson argued that all three should be expelled outright and said it was wrong that they should continue receiving their salaries when facing such serious charges.

“If you reward bad behavior, you will get more of it,” Anderson said.

Ron Calderon
Ron Calderon

Calderon and Wright previously took leaves of absence, which also let them keep their pay. The California Constitution says lawmakers can lose their pay only if they are expelled or resign.

The vote comes just days after federal authorities arrested Yee as part of a broader corruption probe centered on San Francisco’s Chinatown district.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said he supports a proposed constitutional amendment, introduced by Steinberg on Friday, which would allow the Legislature to withhold members’ pay if they are suspended.

He said that shows that the legislative system actually worked.

“This is the best legislative institution in the country, hands down,” he said. “And we’re going to get past it.”

Roderick Wright
Roderick Wright

The only similar situation faced by the Legislature in recent memory is the so-called “Shrimpscam” investigation in 1985, in which federal agents went undercover and posed as representatives of a phony shrimp-processing company. Five lawmakers resigned and went to prison for taking bribes in the FBI sting operation.

The Senate last expelled lawmakers in 1905, when four senators were ousted for malfeasance involving bribery. Only one other senator has been expelled. In 1850 during the first legislative session after California gained statehood, a senator violated Senate rules by failing to show up for sessions for more than 10 days, according to Steinberg’s office.

The 80-member Assembly has never expelled a member and considered doing so only once, officials said. That was in 1899, when an expulsion vote failed Howard E. Wright, who represented Alameda County. Wright had been indicted on bribery charges but was not convicted

By Darren Smith


Associated Press

California Senate Official Website

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18 thoughts on “Three California Legislators Suspended For Alleged Criminal Activity”

  1. Maybe the professional recall drones who infested Wi. can get some work in Ca. recalling these corrupt criminals. Wait, they’re Dems..never mind. Of course if you want the recall to be successful you would need some winners, not losers.

  2. Pat, I’m saying there is NO honor in the Ca. legislature. That’s what happens when you have a monopoly in a duopoly.

  3. Nick, where was the honor in Steinberg’s actions, or lack there of? I don’t know nick but none of them should be drawing a salary.

  4. Pat, There was a time, not long ago, when criminals like this would have the small amount of honor and resign. That went out the window a couple decades ago. A few criminal politicians resign, but most keep feeding off the trough as long as allowed. A political system w/o honor eventually collapses.

  5. rafflaw,

    You are incorrect. Wright was convicted: “Republican Sens. Joel Anderson of Alpine and Steve Knight of Palmdale – who have been unsuccessfully calling on the Senate to expel Wright for the past month – again said their colleagues should to take the harsher step of expelling him because he’s been convicted by a jury. Steinberg has blocked their moves, arguing that the Senate should wait to see if the judge in Wright’s perjury trial upholds the jury’s guilty verdict.

    Read more here:

    And nick is right, people of both parties are pissed about this BS.

  6. Under the Ca. Constitution the Senate has the ability to expel members for gross misconduct. The Senate, dominated by Dems, took the lesser step of suspending them, allowing them to continue to take the taxpayers money[92k]. Guv Moonbeam called on them to resign, but apparently he thought there was honor among thieves. He apparently didn’t listen to the Jesuits in class.

  7. The voters elected them…. Until a recall, resignation they are entitled to the benefits of office regardless of which party they hail….

  8. What’s worse than a duopoly, a monopoly of course. Dems policing Dems in this case. They take care of their own, a screw the citizens.

  9. Since these legislators were employees of the people of California, they are PUBLIC employees. They should not be able to draw full pay until they are proven innocent. These men are not working in a private business, they are public employees–big difference. If and when they are proven innocent, then back pay can be given and their office can be resumed.

  10. Well the legislature can determine the qualifications to seat it’s members….

  11. If you are an employee and you get arrested by the FBI, does not your employer have the right to shitcan you?? Your presumption of innocence is in the courtroom, counselor, nowhere else.

  12. “The law does not give politicians any breaks when they are accused of crimes.” Well, counselor, it would appear these gents were treated w/ kid gloves until the press got off their asses. I think getting bribes from a gangbanger named “Shrimp Boy” helped. There are 2 systems of justice, barrister. Justice for regular folk, and justice for the wealthy and politically connected. That’s hardly a revelation!!

  13. nick,
    The law does not give politicians any breaks when they are accused of a crime and the presumption of innocence should also not be withheld just because they are politicians. If the government can take away that presumption of innocence for any accused person, we are all in trouble. Everyone is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Even politicians and accused rapists and accused murderers. Even people from Illinois.

  14. I guess public officials are not held to a higher standard in your mind, raff. Wait, you’re from Chicago, never mind.

  15. It was laudable that the body voted 28-1 these legislators, however, I wonder who was the one person who voted to keep them as active members during their suspension. The issue of salaries being paid for leave of absences or suspensions is a difficult balance because they are innocent until proven guilty at least for Calderon and Yee. The individual who is awaiting sentencing should be cut off from any continuing salary since he has been found guilty already.

  16. I would not call the action laudable. People in Ca. are really pissed these shitbirds are collecting salary. Folks here in Ca. who don’t even follow politics are sickened by what’s happening. The action was desperate, hardly laudable.

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