King removed from bench while charges pending _lowres

Yolanda King

Yolanda King, the former Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judge convicted last year of lying in election papers about where she lived, avoided prison time Thursday and was sentenced to two years of inactive probation.

King, who was found guilty in November of filing false public records and violating the state election code, also was ordered to perform community service and pay court costs on top of a $1,000 fine.

Ad hoc Judge Michael Kirby, presiding over the case after all the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges recused themselves, lectured King about the “incalculable harm” she has caused to a legal profession already held in diminished regard by the public.

He added, however, that he could see “no good purpose” in sending King to prison, noting she already has been humiliated and may yet lose her law license.

“Under no circumstances should you conclude that because I’ve opted against imprisonment that I make light of the seriousness of your offenses,” Kirby said during a hearing. He said King had shown the “ultimate disrespect, if not contempt, for the law.”

Outside the courtroom, King’s defense attorney, Clarence Roby Jr., called the sentence “fair and balanced” but said his client had not ruled out an appeal.

“No one has any idea of how difficult this whole process has been” for her, Roby said, “especially someone who worked so hard to finally attain a position, only to have it taken from her after being accused of something for which she has always maintained her innocence.”

After losing several previous runs for judgeships, King won election to the Juvenile Court bench in a 2013 runoff, upsetting Doug Hammel, a former Jefferson Parish prosecutor who had been considered the front-runner. But she was indicted the following year on a charge of living in Slidell despite listing a New Orleans domicile in her qualifying papers.

King for years claimed a homestead exemption at a St. Tammany Parish residence, which she bought in 2006, and she identified that property as her home in a bankruptcy filing less than three months before she listed a New Orleans domicile in a February 2013 candidate statement.

State law requires Juvenile Court judges to “have resided in the Parish of Orleans for at least two years immediately preceding their election.”

The Louisiana Supreme Court suspended King from the bench after her indictment. She lost the seat last year in an election won by Desiree Cook-Calvin.

King, who said Thursday that her legal career had been “unblemished” before her indictment, has long claimed her prosecution was politically motivated. She said an operative of Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro threatened her with ruin if she did not drop out of the runoff against Hammel, whom Cannizzaro supported.

“It wasn’t about whether or not she’s domiciled in Orleans Parish,” Roby told the jury that convicted King. “This woman was threatened by people telling her they’re going to destroy her life, and voila.”

Cannizzaro, whose office declined to prosecute King, denied Roby’s allegations and accused the defense attorney of making “downright dishonest attacks.”

The charges against King were brought by the state Attorney General’s Office.

King continued to maintain her innocence at Thursday’s sentencing hearing, even as she asked Kirby for leniency.

She told the judge she has been living in Georgia since the death of her sister in November and is relying on friends and family for sustenance. A requirement of her probation is that she find a job.

“I am innocent,” King said, “and I will continue to fight this wrongful conviction.”

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.