A state appeals court panel this week refused to dismiss the criminal indictment against departing Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Yolanda King for allegedly lying about living in New Orleans when she qualified last year to run for the seat.
The decision was dated Monday, two days after local attorney Desiree Cook-Calvin won a runoff to replace King on the bench.
The ruling clears the way for state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office to move forward with the criminal case against King. No new court date was set as of Wednesday.
King, 57, was indicted in March on a felony charge of filing a false public document and a misdemeanor election code violation, accused of claiming a New Orleans address when she actually lived at a house she owns on Chancer Lane in Slidell.
Two months later, the Louisiana Supreme Court barred her from taking the bench pending a resolution of the criminal case. King ran third in a field of six in the November primary, booting her from the race. Her last day is Dec. 31.
For years, King claimed a homestead exemption on the St. Tammany Parish house, and she listed St. Tammany as her home parish in a bankruptcy filing in late 2012, less than three months before she listed a New Orleans domicile in her February 2013 candidate statement. By law, judicial candidates in Louisiana must have lived in the parish where they run for at least a year.
King is believed to be the first candidate for public office in Louisiana to be charged criminally over an allegation that is frequently lodged against would-be elected officials.
She claims the homestead exemption was a mistake that she rectified last year, just before her surprise runoff victory against former Jefferson Parish prosecutor Doug Hammel, who was backed by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
King claims she was threatened by “political operatives” if she didn’t get out of the race, describing her prosecution as political payback. She also says she wired up to get the threats on tape, though she refused to identify her alleged blackmailer.
“The FBI took my case and for two months they audioed and videoed all the threats that had been made by the political operatives. At that point, they submitted it to the Department of Justice,” she said during her re-election campaign.
So far, nothing has come of that purported investigation. Meanwhile, the criminal case against King has been on hold since August, when ad hoc Judge Michael Kirby denied her motion to quash the indictment, and King appealed.
King argued that prosecutors violated grand jury secrecy rules, and also that Caldwell’s office took on the case illegally, securing an indictment before Cannizzaro’s office formally recused itself in an April 2014 letter.
But an appeals court panel made up of Judges Terri Love, Edwin Lombard and Rosemary Ledet refused to overturn Kirby’s ruling, finding he didn’t abuse his discretion.
King’s criminal attorney, Clarence Roby Jr., has called her prosecution “a quest for vengeance.” He said Wednesday that the FBI had yet to respond to a subpoena for records to bolster that claim.
“It is my allegation the threats that were made to her have come to fruition,” Roby said.
He said he has no plans to appeal the panel’s decision any further.
“I would rather have had the court issue its ruling weeks ago, rather than after the election,” Roby said.
King was a former Orleans Parish prosecutor who later worked as a research attorney for Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson, now the chief justice.
King’s employment prospects soured before her successful run last year for the $146,000-a-year Juvenile Court judgeship after several failed tries for public office. In her Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing, King claimed she had been jobless for months and was receiving only $247 in weekly unemployment checks. Family members were chipping in to keep her afloat, she said.
Upon winning election in May 2013, she filed a new plan with the court, nearly quadrupling her payments to creditors with a plan to emerge from bankruptcy in two years. But last month, after losing the primary, King returned to federal court with a revised plan to reduce her monthly payments to $100, court records show.
“Debtor has lost her employment. Debtor lost her bid for re-election” and will file for unemployment, her motion states.
Despite King’s impending departure from the bench, a spokeswoman for Caldwell’s office said the office “without a doubt” plans to prosecute King.
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