Ex-Vernon Mayor’s Conviction on Two Counts Reversed; Convictions Stand on Eight Other Counts

By City News Service

A state appeals court panel Wednesday upheld longtime former Vernon Mayor Leonis Malburg’s conviction on eight criminal charges for falsely claiming to live in Vernon.

But the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that his conviction on two voter registration fraud charges must be reversed because a letter he returned to the county registrar’s office when questioned about his residence was not an affidavit of registration or a voter
registration form.

In a 67-page ruling, the appellate justices rejected the defense’s claim that there was insufficient evidence to support Malburg’s conviction on the eight other counts, including conspiracy, fraudulent voting, making a false declaration of candidacy, perjury and assisting an unqualified voter.

Malburg was the mayor of the tiny municipality for more than 50 years before resigning in the summer of 2009. He was convicted that December in a non-jury trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson.

The appeals court panel also reversed the conviction of Malburg’s wife on one voter registration fraud count involving a letter she returned to the county registrar’s office, but upheld her conviction on one count each of conspiracy and fraudulent voting.

The justices found that it was “clear” that Leonis Malburg’s domicile was in Hancock Park.

“That their family and life activities were centered in Hancock Park is evidence of an intent to make Hancock Park their permanent home, especially when combined with evidence that Leonis went to and stayed in Vernon for business purposes, and Dominica rarely went to Vernon for any purpose,” Associate Justice Frank Y. Jackson wrote on behalf of the panel.

Leonis Malburg was sentenced in January 2010 to five years probation and ordered to pay $579,000 in fines and restitution.

The trial judge ruled that the couple did not live in Vernon and said that the former mayor knew he was ineligible to be a candidate and knew he and his wife were ineligible to vote in Vernon.

“I think that these are serious crimes involving fraud and dishonesty which merit serious punishment,” Johnson said in sentencing the former mayor, while noting that he did not give Malburg jail time because of his age – 80 at the time – and medical condition.

He also was barred from holding public office or holding any position within the city’s government.

His wife was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay $36,000 in fines and penalty assessments.

The two were initially charged by the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division in November 2006 –several months after the first contested election in Vernon in more than 25 years – then indicted in October 2007. Leonis Malburg’s attorney maintained that the evidence showed his client was “domiciled in Vernon” and intended to stay there. Dominica Malburg’s attorney told the judge that his client believed Vernon was “her home.”

Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman countered that the two conspired to “create the illusion that they lived in Vernon.”

The judge ruled that the prosecution had proven that “the defendants were not domiciled in Vernon” in 2005, while noting that there probably was a time when they were living there.

The ex-mayor’s presence in Vernon was “purely related to business” involving his personal business and his role in the city government, and his use of an apartment in Vernon was “purely for convenience in carrying out his
business activities,” Johnson said.

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November 30, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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