Activist’s Voter Fraud Case Stalled on Competency Question
Lopez says the judicial system has left him without a desire to exercise his right to vote.
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
Nearly two years after being charged with eight felonies related to election and voter registration fraud, longtime immigrant rights activist Nativo Lopez has yet to stand trial in a case that has taken many unusual twists and turns.
Lopez insists that he has not committed any crimes and his supporters are demanding all charges be dropped.
The prosecutor in the case believes Lopez is pretending to be mentally ill in order to avoid going to trial.
“They have accused me of being incompetent… They want me in a mental institution and forcibly medicated so that I come to court like an obedient zombie,” Lopez told supporters outside the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on Friday, March 11.
Last week, Superior Court Judge George Lomeli, following the findings of a court-ordered psychiatric report, remanded Lopez to a state mental institution for mandatory treatment.
A progress report to establish whether Lopez had been admitted to Patton State Mental Hospital in San Bernardino County, was originally set for today, March 17, but was canceled the same day it was calendared.
Psychiatrist Jack Rothberge, one of three psychiatrists who have found Lopez incompetent to stand trial, submitted a supplemental report on March 10 indicating that he had changed his opinion and believes Lopez to be competent after all.
The judge reversed his decision, and let the activist go. MAPA, Mexican American Political Association, an organization where Lopez is president, but which has seen a significant drop off locally in both members and political influence, responded by calling a press conference.
Lopez’s supporters, many of whom said they are members of a branch of La Hermandad (Hermandad Mexicana Nacional), said during the press conference that Lopez is innocent and is being punished for defending immigrant workers.
“We have been supporting him every time he comes to court,” said Alicia Flores of the La Hermandad Hank Lacayo Youth and Family Center in Oxnard.
“Yesterday we found out that the judge did not act very professionally, when he demanded [Nativo] submit himself to a psychological evaluation or be incarcerated. He accepted to go to a psychologist… and answer questions related to the case. The prosecutor was there and she was looking very sarcastically at Nativo, provoking him and making fun of him, ” Flores said.
Lopez’s next court appearance is scheduled for April 14, at which time the court will try to resolve whether Lopez is competent to stand trial. Because Rothberge’s first two reports were inconsistent, the psychiatrist will submit his final report on Lopez’s competence to the judge, according to the district attorney’s office.
Lopez, who wants to act as his own attorney, argues that based on “Common Law,” he has not committed a crime since there is no victim and no damages to property.
In June 2009, the Public Integrity Unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit charged him with four felonies: fraudulent voter registration, fraudulent document filing, perjury and fraudulent voting. He faces a total of eight felony charges.
Investigators for the Election Fraud Investigation Unit said that Lopez, a resident of Orange County, registered to vote using the address of an office in Boyle Heights, and cast an illegal ballot in Los Angeles in the 2008 presidential primary.
Since then, the case has changed hands three times, and Lomeli is now overseeing proceedings in the case. Lopez was indicted by a grand jury.
Numerous public defenders have been assigned to Lopez, who quickly turns around and fires them. Lopez told EGP he wants to defend himself.
However, because he must first be deemed competent to defend himself in court, the case has stalled as he “pretends to be mentally ill,” said prosecutor Juliet Smidt, of the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division.
“He thinks that if he makes the court believe he’s incompetent all he’ll get is out-patient therapy once a month which is not punishment. That’s what his game is,” Smidt told EGP on Monday.
Smidt says she talked to Rothberge and asked him revise his opinion; he did and the judge took back his order for Lopez to be in a mental hospital.
Lopez has delayed the court proceedings by talking gibberish to psychiatrist and submitting nonsensical information, for example on the Queen of England and on taxes, Smidt said.
“He’s never made these claims about no victim. There are plenty of crimes where there is no victim,” she said noting bribery and fraud cases are still crimes. “We prosecute a number of violations that are violation of public trust by elected officials or leaders in public positions were there is no property damage.”
“The man is not incompetent, I’ve told the judge that numerous times,” Smidt told EGP.
As the case moves forward, Smidt says Lopez cannot represent himself based on three judges believing he is incompetent.
Lopez’s supporters say they are beginning a new campaign to rally support for Lopez and to have Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley drop the charges.
March 17, 2011 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.