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Sentencing delayed for convicted California state senator

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Sentencing has been postponed for a state senator whose conviction on eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud is one of three ethics scandals involving Democratic lawmakers in the most populous U.S. state, lawyers said on Tuesday.

The delay will allow Senator Roderick Wright, who has been suspended with pay, to remain in the Senate and continue to collect his $90,526 annual salary for at least two more months, until his new hearing in July.

Wright was convicted in January of lying about whether he lived in the district he sought to represent, the first in a string of criminal proceedings against three state senators this year that ultimately cost Democrats their two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

In addition to the case against Wright, fellow state Senator Ron Calderon was indicted in February on corruption charges and state Senator Leland Yee was arrested in March on bribery and gun-trafficking conspiracy charges.

A decision by majority Democratic leaders to suspend the three legislators, but allow them to continue to be paid, has generated controversy in the state, prompting Republicans to deride the suspensions as paid vacations.

On Tuesday, the California Senate was set to hear arguments on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow state senators to be suspended without pay after Democratic leaders said they did not have the power to withhold the salaries of the three senators without expelling them from the body completely.

Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg has said expulsion would not be appropriate until legal proceedings against the senators are concluded, although he has called on Yee and Calderon to resign.

A judge on Friday agreed to put off Wright's sentencing, which had been scheduled for next week, so his lawyers could prepare a request for a new trial, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors and Wright's attorney.

Winston Kevin McKesson, Wright's lawyer, said he planned to ask the judge to set aside the January verdict and order a new trial, adding he will argue the jury did not properly apply state law defining a domicile for the purpose of running for political office.

"We're going to make the same arguments we made before," McKesson said. "That Senator Wright established domicile properly and that he certainly did not do anything in violation of the law in a knowing fashion."

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, said Wright faces up to eight years and four months in state prison.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein, editing by G Crosse)

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