Yolanda King needed a job in a bad way.
It was late 2012, and the New Orleans-area attorney couldn’t afford to make the payments on two mortgages for her house in Slidell, a $74,000 student loan balance, a $25,000 car loan for her 2009 Nissan Murano and credit cards bills. Her total debt: $269,000.
King had done two stints with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and had worked until 2008 as a research attorney for Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson, now the chief justice.
But when she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in December 2012, 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. She also counted $695 in income from Social Security benefits for a disabled older brother she listed as a dependent.
Among the myriad forms that King submitted to secure bankruptcy protection was a brief tax filing statement.
“I am of the full age of majority and domiciled in ST. TAMMANY Parish,” it read, with the parish name in all capital letters.
Two months later, on Feb. 13, 2013, King signed and filed a different kind of document: a notice of candidacy to run for Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judge. In that affidavit, she listed her domicile as 5336 Stillwater Drive in New Orleans.
It was the same address King had used in a failed bid for a seat on the same court in 2002 and when she ran for an Orleans Parish Criminal District Court seat in 2008.
The state constitution says judges in Louisiana “shall have been domiciled in the respective district, circuit or parish for one year preceding election.”
Another, more obscure constitutional “ancillary” says Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges, in particular, “shall have resided in the Parish of Orleans for at least two years immediately preceding their election.”
The bankruptcy documents seem to show that King lied either on her state candidacy qualification form — as a grand jury accused her of doing in an indictment handed up in March — or on the federal bankruptcy document. An alternative: She told the truth on both forms because she moved back to New Orleans between December 2012 and February 2013, but that still would have left her ineligible under state law to take a seat on the Juvenile Court bench after her surprising runoff victory in May 2013.
King, 54, faces one felony and one misdemeanor charge for allegedly lying on the state candidacy form, in a case that was slowed when all dozen Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges recused themselves, one by one, citing a conflict.
The Louisiana Supreme Court, with Johnson recusing herself, in May disqualified King from “exercising any judicial function during the pendency of further proceedings” in the criminal case, though she continues to get paid.
And last month, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation to reduce the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court by up to two judgeships. The law allows the removal of the second judgeship in cases where a seat goes vacant by “disqualification from exercising any judicial function pursuant to order of the Louisiana Supreme Court.”
The amendment appeared to directly reference King, but what it means for her ability to run for re-election while the criminal case moves forward remains uncertain.
And run she will, her attorney, Clarence Roby Jr., made clear Thursday outside a criminal courtroom.
“I don’t know why anyone would speculate she wouldn’t,” he said.
King remained silent inside and out of the courtroom where Judge Michael Kirby, appointed by the Supreme Court to preside over the case, delayed proceedings until Roby receives more information from state and federal agencies to help in his defense of the judge.
On Friday, Roby declined to explain why King listed her domicile as being in St. Tammany Parish in her bankruptcy filing but in New Orleans on her candidacy form just two months later.
“What information existed contemporaneously to her filing (the candidate statement), that’s what’s relevant,” Roby said.
He also declined to discuss the constitutional requirement that candidates must have lived for at least a year in the parish where they run.
King’s bankruptcy attorney, Mary Taylor, declined to comment.
The controversy over King’s residency came about largely from an election-season challenge by losing candidate Cynthia Samuel, based on a homestead exemption King held on the house she bought in 2006 on Chancer Lane in Slidell.
Samuel filed a complaint with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, which later recused itself from the case.
State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office secured the indictment against King nearly a year later, in a rare if not unprecedented criminal prosecution over an allegation that frequently arises during elections in the state: that a candidate doesn’t live where she claims.
During the race, King acknowledged owning a home in Slidell and didn’t dispute having a homestead exemption on the property. But she said the exemption was a mistake and that her sister actually lived at that address, according to a report at the time in The Times-Picayune. King asserted she lived at another sister’s home in New Orleans.
St. Tammany Parish assessor’s records show that King signed an application for the homestead exemption in late 2006, for the 2007 tax year, and maintained the exemption through 2012. Records show she later paid back the tax reductions she gained from the exemption.
Sonceree Clark, the state prosecutor trying the case against King for Caldwell’s office, declined to comment on the case this week.
A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office said the agency logs the sworn affidavits filed by candidates but does not independently check on the validity of domicile statements.
Arthur Morrell, the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court clerk, said the same goes for his office.
“We don’t have the authority to say, ‘You don’t live in this place,’ ” Morrell said. “They give us an address. We verify what precinct in New Orleans they’re in.”
John Carroll, a former Jefferson Parish sheriff’s detective who is now a private investigator, said he passed on a report to Caldwell’s office detailing his investigation of King for a client he has refused to name. As part of that investigation, Carroll said, he took video on the early morning of May 14, 2013, showing King backing out of the driveway at the Slidell home in a Nissan Murano.
Two days later, he found the champagne-colored car at City Hall, where Juvenile Court is located.
“She was already on the bench. She was going to work every day, doing her judge duties,” Carroll said. “I gave (the video) to the Attorney General’s Office.”
Carroll said he also testified before the state Judiciary Commission, which recommended King’s temporary removal from the bench to the state Supreme Court.
King also signed another document in December 2007: a Road Home declaration of covenants for the home on Chancer Lane in Slidell. In it, she agreed to occupy the property within three years.
Voters elected King to complete the Juvenile Court term of Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier, who moved to Criminal District Court in 2012.
King’s seat is up this year. To win it back, she’ll need to qualify in August.
In the meantime, she continues to pull her $146,262 annual salary while she sits on the sidelines.
The money has helped King push ahead with her debt payments. She filed a motion a year ago for a new bankruptcy plan.
She said she could nearly quadruple her regular payments to creditors, from $464 a month to $1,685, “because debtor has procured new employment and can adjust her plan payment.”
Under the new schedule, King will emerge from bankruptcy in two years.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.