Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office on Wednesday accused an attorney for Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Yolanda King of spewing “a stream of unsupported falsehoods clearly meant to distract the court and the public from the evidence” that King lied about where she lived when she qualified to run for her seat last year.
Assistant Attorney General Sonceree Smith Clark argued that attorney Clarence Roby Jr. should be held in contempt and penalized for alleging prosecutorial misconduct that he said was motivated by a desire to exact political revenge.
Roby did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But last week, he cried foul in a motion to throw out the March 20 indictment that accuses King of filing a false public record and violating the state election code. Roby argued in the motion that prosecutors violated rules on grand jury secrecy, citing a response he received from Caldwell’s office to a question about who was present in the grand jury room.
Roby also questioned whether Caldwell’s office even has the authority to prosecute the case against King, who is accused of listing a New Orleans domicile on a candidate affidavit when she really lived at a house she owns in Slidell.
He cited a recusal letter from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office that was not sent until April 11, 2014, three weeks after the indictment.
Cannizzaro endorsed King’s runoff opponent, former Jefferson Parish prosecutor Doug Hammel, in the May 2013 election, and he has said that’s why his office stepped back from the case.
In a six-page response Wednesday, Clark called Roby’s allegations “completely baseless, without merit, and nothing more than an attempt to cast aspersions upon another officer of the court.”
Roby appeared to be responding to a statement from Clark, provided to King’s defense, that mentioned a case presented to the same grand jury “prior to (Clark’s) presentation” of the King matter.
Nothing in the documents Roby received indicated that a local prosecutor was still in the room when the indictment against King was handed up, Clark wrote.
The filing Wednesday includes affidavits signed this week by both Clark and state prosecutor Kurt Wall.
In her affidavit, Clark says no one from Cannizzaro’s office was “in the room, at any point, while this case was presented.”
Wall, in his affidavit, claims he received a call from Cannizzaro’s office on April 11, 2013, shortly after losing candidate Cynthia Samuel filed a complaint with the DA’s Office alleging residency violations against both King and Hammel. Samuel also sent her complaint to Caldwell’s office and the U.S. attorney.
In that call, Wall states in his sworn affidavit, a Cannizzaro representative said the office was recusing itself from the case.
Exactly a year later, First Assistant District Attorney Graymond Martin wrote a letter to Caldwell’s office, formally recusing the office.
Cannizzaro last week also denied any participation by his office in King’s prosecution. A spokesman, Christopher Bowman, has not responded to repeated requests for comment about the recusal issue.
A hearing has been set for Thursday on King’s motion to quash the indictment against her. It will be held before retired Judge Michael Kirby, who was assigned the case by the Louisiana Supreme Court after all 12 Orleans Parish Criminal Court judges bowed out, citing personal or professional conflicts.
Roby argued that the grand jury based its indictment solely on the affidavit King filed with Secretary of State’s Tom Schedler’s office in February 2013, listing her address on Stillwater Drive in New Orleans.
Roby’s claim, Clark wrote, was “completely conjured from his imagination.”
“For (Roby) to go further and allege intentional prosecutorial misconduct is at the very least disingenuous and at the most sanctionable,” Clark wrote. “While the defendant’s motion and argument is entertaining on a very basic level, the allegations contained therein are not amusing at all.”
Also included in the filing is a letter dated April 4, 2014, from Samuel to Wall describing phone records that Samuel said show a call from Cannizzaro’s office in April 2013. In that call, Samuel wrote, she was told the district attorney was recusing his office from the case.
According to Clark, Caldwell’s office “only participated in this case because it believed that it had the full consent and participation with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.”
While belated, the April letter from Martin is enough to make the indictment valid, Clark argued.
King, 56, faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the felony charge against her. She has pleaded not guilty.
King has never denied claiming a homestead exemption on the property she bought in 2006 on Chancer Lane in Slidell, but she has said the exemption was an inadvertent mistake that she later cleared up, paying back the tax savings, and that her twin sister lives in the Slidell house.
Several public documents, including King’s 2012 bankruptcy filing — along with neighbors’ statements — point to her living in the Slidell house at least in the months leading up to her May 2013 election after five earlier failed tries at public office.
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.”
In the meantime, a hearing has been set for Monday in East Baton Rouge Parish on a lawsuit filed Monday by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, insisting that Schedler’s office remove King’s judgeship from the ballot for the upcoming judicial elections.
Landrieu claims that King’s Section E seat was abolished under a new law which took effect Aug. 1, aimed at shrinking the size of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.