A jury will begin hearing evidence Tuesday in a first for Louisiana: the criminal prosecution of a political candidate accused of lying about where she lived when she filed her qualifying papers.
A Criminal District Court judge swore in three men and three women late Monday to weigh the charges against Yolanda King, who won a seat on the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court bench in May 2013 and held it for a year until questions about her residency overtook her.
A state grand jury indicted King in March 2014, charging her with two criminal counts for claiming a New Orleans domicile when, according to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office, she really lived at a house she bought in 2006 in Slidell.
The state Supreme Court suspended King pending the outcome of the criminal case, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu tried in vain to get the Legislature to do away with her seat entirely before voters removed King from office in an election last fall.
What’s left for King is a chance to explain how she could validly claim a New Orleans domicile when for years she held a homestead exemption on the Slidell home. She also listed St. Tammany Parish as her domicile in federal bankruptcy papers she filed in December 2012, two months before filling out her sworn candidate statement.
The state constitution says judges must have been domiciled in the parish or district where they serve for at least a year prior to election. While it’s not uncommon for political candidates to face a challenge over their claimed domicile, or principal residence, King is the first to confront criminal charges on the issue.
King, 58, argues that she’s the victim of political vengeance after her surprising runoff win over Doug Hammel, a former Jefferson Parish prosecutor who had the backing of, among others, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. King has claimed she was threatened with just this sort of ruin by Cannizzaro “operatives” if she didn’t drop out of the Juvenile Court race.
“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,” King said last year.
Cannizzaro has denied having anything to do with King’s prosecution, other than to recuse his office and leave it to the attorney general, and no federal charges have been filed.
Just what role her allegations may play in the trial is uncertain. Ad hoc Judge Michael Kirby has not ruled on how much room he will give King’s attorney, Clarence Roby Jr., to argue the existence of a conspiracy.
The indictment accuses King of filing false public records, a felony carrying a maximum five-year prison term, along with a misdemeanor violation of the election code.
Attorneys for both sides Monday picked the jury from a pool of 29 prospective jurors, few of whom claimed to know about King or the controversy.
Among the key witnesses expected to testify for the state is private investigator John Carroll, a former Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who kept tabs on King outside the Slidell house while apparently working in 2013 for another judicial candidate, Cynthia Samuel.
St. Tammany Parish Assessor’s Office officials also are poised to testify about King’s homestead exemption. King has claimed that she was granted the tax break mistakenly when she bought the house on Chancer Lane and that her sister was the one living there.
Assessor’s records, however, show that King signed an application for the exemption months after she bought the house, keeping the exemption through 2012 even as she claimed a New Orleans domicile in multiple runs for office. Records show she later paid back the tax reductions she got because of the exemption.
When King ran for re-election last year, it took her three tries to submit a candidate affidavit listing a proper New Orleans address.
“I’m all good,” she said as she left the courthouse Monday. “That’s the only way I could be.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.