Rosa Elia Orozco-Lopez, the Williams Unified School Board trustee who is charged with election fraud and perjury, was ordered to stand trial on four felony counts by Colusa County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Thompson after a preliminary hearing on Friday.
Orozco-Lopez is charged with two counts of perjury by declaration, one count of filing false nomination papers or a declaration of candidacy, and one count of voter registration fraud. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The Colusa County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, contends that while Orozco-Lopez claimed that her father’s home in Williams was her primary residence – or her domicile – when she filed candidacy papers in 2014 and 2016 in order to run for a seat on the school board, she actually continued to live at a home she has owned in Yuba City since 2007, and never established a domicile in Williams. Orozco-Lopez’s two-attorney defense team argued that their client had established the Williams residence as her domicile in 2014, when she stated her intent to move to the Williams residence. Orozco-Lopez effectuated that intent by changing her address with the Department of Motor Vehicles, for both her vehicle registration and driver’s license, registered to vote using a Williams address, moved her pay stubs there, filed taxes there, and moved financial accounts there – and had never taken any steps to change her domicile back to the Yuba City residence during the period of the District Attorney’s investigation, her attorney said.
Following the nearly five-hour preliminary hearing, Thompson reached a probable cause decision that the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office had presented enough evidence force Orozco-Lopez to stand trial for each of the four felony charges she was facing.
Thompson explained that under California Government Code Section 349, “the domicile of a person is defined as that place in which his or her habitation is fixed, wherein the person has the intention of remaining, and to which, whenever he or she is absent, the person has the intention of returning. At any given time, a person may have only one domicile.” Mere residence, Thompson added, was defined as “that place in which a person’s habitation is fixed for some period of time, but where he or she does not have the intention of remaining. At a given time, a person may have more than one residence.”
“Both habitation and intent to reside are factual questions which depend primarily on circumstances,” Thompson said. “Looking at all of the circumstances in this case, it appears that – at least to the standard applicable for a preliminary hearing – there is sufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer as to each of the four offenses charged in the complaint on file herein… The court rules the defendant to answer to each of those charges at this time.”
During the hearing, District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp presented evidence and used testimony from investigators that he said showed Orozco-Lopez did not actually live at the at the Williams residence.
The evidence from the prosecution included utility bills (water, sewer, and PG&E), post office records, and billing statements from Comcast and T-Mobile, each of which was under Orozco-Lopez’s name and associated with her Yuba City residence. Also entered into evidence were cellphone ping records, banking records, and account records from Facebook (including private messages), as well as photos of the two residences taken during the execution of search warrants in April of this year. Beauchamp called a total of four witnesses, including District Attorney Investigator Sara Martin, Williams police officers Leticia Reusser and Erik Farias, and Daniel Garbutt, a Sacramento County District Attorney’s Investigator who is a specialist on cellphone location records.
Martin testified that investigators obtained a search warrant for financial records from a bank account belonging to Orozco-Lopez, from 2015 to 2018, in order to establish financial patterns and determine who was paying bills. Martin said that purchases from May 2015 to March 2018 were broken down into four categories –fuel, restaurants, retail, and grocery – and that the majority of purchases in each category were made in Yuba City – in most cases, a vast majority. Martin, when asked by Beauchamp, said that there were local options for Williams residents when it came to some of the transactions Orozco-Lopez had made in Yuba City – such bars and a fitness center. Martin also testified that GPS trackers were used on Orozco-Lopez’s vehicle, in order to establish and confirm not just the path of travel, but where the vehicle was staying. The car never once stayed overnight at the Williams residence, Martin said. During that month, she said, Orozco-Lopez’s car only parked in front of the Williams residence once around lunch time, for a period of about two hours.
Farias and Reusser, who were both present during the execution of the search warrant at the Williams residence on Aug. 6, 2018, testified that they interviewed Orozco-Lopez’s father, Genaro Orozco Alcarez, and his wife, respectively, on that date. Both testified that during their interviews, Alcarez and his wife stated explicitly that Orozco-Lopez lived in Yuba City, and occasionally spent time at the Williams residence. Garbutt testified that based on his analysis of the ping data from Orozco-Lopez’s cellphone, with a date range from July 2017 to April 2018, he said he was able to determine that the phone “goes to bed and wakes up in Yuba City” – meaning that the last call of the night and the first call of the next morning were made on the same tower – in this case, a the tower at Bogue Road and Walton Road, which is the nearest tower to Orozco-Lopez’s Parkwood Avenue home.