Indicted Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Yolanda King isn’t taking an attempt to abolish her seat lying down.
King filed a motion Friday seeking to intervene in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s legal bid to do away with her Section E seat.
The city filed a lawsuit Monday arguing that King’s seat vanished when a law to reduce the size of Juvenile Court went into effect Aug. 1.
In the lawsuit, Landrieu’s administration is demanding that Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell drop the Section E seat from this fall’s ballot.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday morning before 19th Judicial District Judge Wilson Fields in Baton Rouge. The three-day qualifying period for the Nov. 4 election begins Wednesday.
King, facing criminal allegations that she lied about living in New Orleans when she filed her sworn candidacy statement last year, claims axing her seat would violate due process and the state Constitution, which says the “term of office, retirement benefits and compensation of a judge shall not be decreased during the term for which he is elected.”
The 2014 law, championed by Landrieu, set the conditions for removing two judicial seats from a court that the Bureau of Governmental Research and others say is bloated, with far more judges than it needs.
One seat will disappear when Judge Lawrence Lagarde Jr. leaves at the end of his term Dec. 31. The law, which Gov. Bobby Jindal signed in early June, doesn’t specify what other section will be abolished.
It says only that another judgeship will disappear a day after “becoming vacant by (a judge’s) death, resignation, retirement, disqualification from exercising any judicial function pursuant to order of the Louisiana Supreme Court, or removal during the term of office.”
On May 15, the Louisiana Supreme Court deemed King “disqualified from exercising any judicial function during the pendency of further proceedings” in her criminal case.
To Landrieu, that means the seat was abolished on Aug. 2. His office said it will shift $179,000 in annual funding from the court to other juvenile services in the city.
But according to King, the mayor is jumping the gun. Her attorney, James Williams, argues in his motion that King’s disqualification — with pay — wasn’t permanent, and the Supreme Court has never notified the governor of any vacancy.
“Since mere interim disqualification does not render a seat ‘vacant,’ ” Williams argues, “the seat by law must be placed on the ballot.”
Schedler’s office made a similar argument on Thursday.
King won a surprise runoff victory last year over former Jefferson Parish prosecutor Doug Hammel, gaining the right to complete the term of Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier. A few weeks earlier, losing candidate Cynthia Samuel had lodged a complaint alleging residency violations by both King and Hammel. She sent it to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office.
Caldwell’s office secured an indictment March 20 accusing King of living at a house she owns in Slidell while listing an address on Stillwater Drive in New Orleans in her sworn candidate papers.
The state constitution says judges in Louisiana “shall have been domiciled in the respective district, circuit or parish for one year preceding election.” Another clause says Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges “shall have resided in the Parish of Orleans for at least two years immediately preceding their election.”
King has pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of filing a false public record and a misdemeanor election code violation. She claims that a homestead exemption she claimed for years on the Slidell house was an inadvertent mistake by the Assessor’s Office there, although bankruptcy filings and assessor’s records suggest otherwise.
King recently launched a re-election website, and Samuel has said she’ll be in the race as well, if there is one.
In the meantime, King’s backers claim her prosecution, and Landrieu’s push to abolish her seat, is political payback. Landrieu spokeswoman Garnesha Crawford disputed that claim in a statement Thursday.
“This is not a personal issue,” Crawford said. “This is about right-sizing the courts to save money and invest in juvenile services.”
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