FOR YEARS IN THE Southwest, Chicano activists have complained about injustices suffered by Latinos at the hands of the legal system — from police brutality to racial profiling — and their complaints have usually gone unheeded until the intercession by the courts.
Those injustices, though, have rarely, if ever, involved a respected longtime political office-holder.
But then, supporters of Richard Alarcon maintain, the 58-year-old Los Angeles City Councilman was too attractive of a target for ambitious prosecutors to overlook.
If there was ever a power broker who knew how to play political music chairs in the era of term limits, it has been Alarcon. First elected to the city council in 1993, he jumped to the State Senate in 1998 barely a year into his second term. In 2006, termed out in the Senate, he elbowed out two other Latinos to win a State Assembly seat. But before even being sworn into office, capitalizing on a new law circumventing term limits, Alarcon announced he would seek a third term on the City Council.
Then, as the 2010 redistricting neared, Alarcon appeared to be the leading name for a new Latino Congressional seat that was certain to be carved out in the heavily Hispanic San Fernando Valley.
Within weeks, however, Alarcon and his wife were hit with a 24-count felony indictment alleging perjury and voter fraud involving his legal residence. The Alarcons pleaded not guilty, but the Latino politician had to curb his ambitions. Termed out of serving on the City Council, he is now running for a seat back in the State Assembly where he still has potential terms to serve..
From the beginning, the criminal case seemed shaky. Alarcon had listed a ranch-style house on Nordhoff Street in Panorama City — within his city council district — as is legal residence. His wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, owned that house as well as another home in nearby Sun Valley, which is outside his district. Prosecutors alleged that the lawmaker actually resided in that second house and violated election laws.
Now a California Superior Judge has cast serious doubts over that prosecution, according to transcripts of a hearing obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
According those transcripts, the court criticized the prosecutor for seemingly stacking the deck against the Alarcons in proceedings before the grand jury that indicted them by making light of evidence submitted by their attorney that appeared to document that the couple was indeed living at the house where they claimed to live.
Prosecutors were also ignoring statements from neighbors, relatives and workers who are prepared to testify that the Nordhoff home is the Alarcons’ primary residence and that they were frequently there.
The judge, according to the transcripts, scolded the prosecutor for her reaction to witnesses that the defense said would testify that the Alarcons regularly ordered fast food, picked up prescriptions and shopped at the local Home Depot for materials needed to renovate the ranch-style home on Nordhoff Street.”
Additionally, the court reminded prosecutors of the burden to make sure grand jurors are aware of evidence that could undercut their case, in the wake of there not being a judge or defense lawyers present during a criminal grand jury proceeding.
Alarcon’s attorneys have asked that the case be dismissed, but the judge is withholding a ruling until prosecutors file additional briefs. The next scheduled hearing is May 3.
“The councilman is relieved that the judge expressed concern about this,” said Fredric Woocher, an attorney for the Alarcons. “This is evidence that goes to the heart of the case.”