By Alexis Calvo
A settlement not totally to the liking of the Los Angeles District Attorneyâ€™s Office was finally reached after twenty-four months of attempting to bring to trial the case against Nativo Lopez, National President of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and the Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana. Originally charging Lopez with eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury in June 2009, District Attorney Steve Cooley finally conceded to eliminate seven counts and stand on one count of voter registration fraud, a felony wobblier, which will be reduced to a misdemeanor and expunged from the record (constituting a dismissal) after twelve months assuming Lopez complies with probation conditions of 400 community service hours.
The original case was filed by the district attorney in June 2009 with four felony charges and subsequently amended to include four additional felony counts for a total of eight. After one year the D.A. was unable to bring the case to a preliminary hearing, and actually came close to losing the case, Commissioner Kristi Lousteau, the first judge to hear the matter, was overheard to say by the eleventh month of the case. The D.A. then moved to convene the Los Angeles County Grand Jury to obtain an indictment, which it successfully did in June 2010. One year later, after three different judges ordered Lopez to be examined by court-ordered psychiatrists on six separate occasions and three incarcerations lasting from four hours to five days, including two instances of strict solitary confinement, and having been before six superior court judges, the case was finally set for trial on June 22nd before Superior Court Judge William Ryan.
Lopez sought to have private counsel engaged after defending the case himself for most of the two years with no previous legal court experience. However, two judges denied him the right to legal counsel of his choice and imposed on him the public defender over his repeated objections on the record. Judges George G. Lomeli and Patricia Schnegg also denied him additional time for private counsel to prepare for a trial.
With literally one day to prepare for a trial, review all discovery documents, interview prospective witnesses, and prepare pre-trial motions, the defense was inclined to offer a settlement in the interest of the defendant. At the end of the day, the district attorneyâ€™s office was motivated to drop seven felony counts, not seek any jail time, and settle for a plea on the one felony charge (defined as a wobblier â€“ could be filed as a felony or a misdemeanor), which it conceded would be reduced to a misdemeanor and ultimately dismissed from the record once Lopez completes the community service hours. On the other hand, conviction of the eight felony counts was the equivalent of a 48-year prison sentence.
Lopez never conceded that he had not taken up residence in his Boyle Heights office during the height of the historic immigrantsâ€™ rights marches of 2006 thru 2008, the period under investigation by the D.A.â€™s office. Cooley conceded that Lopez had been registered to vote in only one location, not two, and that he voted only once in each of the elections â€“ never in two jurisdictions and never more than once. To the prosecutorâ€™s insistence that Lopez verbalize a plea of guilty to the one count, Lopez responded, â€œa plea of guilty has been entered because it is in my interest to do so based on the plea agreement reached with the district attorneyâ€™s office.â€ Judge Ryan immediately found this acceptable and so ordered.
Lopez was quoted as declaring, â€œI am happy to put this behind me, and ironically glad that District Attorney Steve Cooley brought the charges against me. Over the past two years I was forced to study the law, the judicial system, the common law, courtroom decorum and procedure, and the Uniform Commercial Code, like never before. Cooley put me on a course of study that I would not have otherwise pursued. With this knowledge I am now positioned to help literally tens of thousands of others to work their way through the legal system. I now intend to continue a serious study of law and commercial remedies for the layperson. I have turned lemons into lemonade.â€
The offenses for which Lopez was charged are actually extremely common.
The most common occurrences of an individual registering to vote in a domicile where he does not live 100 percent of the time are college students living and studying elsewhere, but maintaining their voter registration address in the residence of their parents; business-persons who have a business address and a residence address elsewhere; and individuals who frequently travel and have multiple residences. Many people have made the observation that the prosecution by the D.A.â€™s office against Lopez was politically motivated and heavy-handed in terms of the multiple felony charges.
Dissimilar to other public officials charged with criminal offenses in the recent past, Lopez was not accused of texting pornographic photos of himself to women, soliciting sex from prostitutes, laundering money, trafficking arms, abusing drugs or alcohol, attempting to bribe a government official or soliciting a bribe for himself, sexual assault on a women, or other such felonious crime. He was accused of registering to vote from his office domicile and voting from that address and allegedly residing elsewhere â€“ and because of that he received the wrath of Cooleyâ€™s office with eight felony charges.
Lopez was actually born in Boyle Heights and has maintained offices in East Los Angeles since the 1970s with the numerous organizations with which he has been affiliated over the past forty years, including the Center of Autonomous Social Action (CASA), Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, and the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA). He has participated in multiple electoral and political campaigns throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan region, which have resulted in the election of many public officials, both Latino and non-Latino. His most prominent and recent activities in the region were the historic immigrantsâ€™ rights marches and economic boycotts.
ORIGIN OF THE CHARGES
The origin of the charges against Nativo Lopez stemmed from an internal dispute within the Green Party Los Angeles County Council. Old guard conservative leadership led by Michael Feinstein lost their power sway to a reform slate, which came to prominence in the primary elections of June 2006. Lopez represented the Senate District 22 as a county party delegate, encompassing the cities of Boyle Heights, Maywood, and parts of the city of Los Angeles, and immediately became a target of harassment, surveillance, and spying by the Feinstein faction.
Feinsteinâ€™s group refused to concede the reins of leadership to the reformers and launched attacks against a number of its leaders, including Lopez.
Court documents revealed that the source of the original complaint to the California Secretary of Stateâ€™s Office, and subsequently to the Los Angeles District Attorneyâ€™s Office, was the Feinstein cohorts. This party faction worked with state and county police agencies to run Lopez out of the Green Party. Lopez actually ceased any party activities in 2008 after concluding with other party activists that this party could not be a viable alternative to disaffected Democratic and independent Latino voters. State and county detectives and investigators conducted surveillance against Lopez in 2008 and 2009, with the connivance and cooperation of the Feinstein faction, prior to filing the criminal charges in June 2009. â€œFeinstein and his allies were not interested in a darker hue of green for the Green Party by way of recruiting thousands of new adherents of color to the party as we had intended and repeatedly proposed,â€ stated Lopez. â€œAnd the party has remained a miniature cult under the control of white party activists in the face of a colored tsunami of demographic shift throughout California, but especially in the Los Angeles metropolitan region,â€ he concluded.
At the conclusion of the case, Lopez expressed that, â€œI only regret that we did not have the opportunity to challenge the manner in which the county grand jury is convened by the district attorneyâ€™s office, which truly does not reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the surrounding community of Los Angeles â€“ of the accused; and that we were not permitted the time to challenge the selective prosecution trajectory of the D.A.â€™s office over the years, which has been oriented against persons of color.â€
He also expressed his deep gratitude to the many people that stood by him on some fifteen court appearances, and contributed to his defense, especially the hard-working immigrant workers who took days off from work to accompany him to the court.
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