Juvenile Judge Yolanda King pleads not guilty to criminal charges

Yolanda King
Yolanda King

King pleads not guilty in filing false address in election qualifying

New Orleans Juvenile Court Judge Yolanda King pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that she falsified her address last year when qualifying to run.

King’s attorney, Clarence Roby Jr., entered the plea while King stood silently before Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter, who set a $30,000 bail for King, then released her on her own recognizance.

King declined to comment as she left the courtroom, refusing to say whether she stands by the affidavit she filed last year in which she stated that she lived at 5336 Stillwater Drive, New Orleans. That was a lie, according to prosecutors with state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office. King actually lived in St. Tammany Parish, prosecutors allege.

“I’m not saying anything. Thank you,” King said as she left the courtroom. Roby also declined to comment.

A state grand jury issued an indictment Thursday accusing King of a pair of felonies: falsifying public records and forging election documents.

Caldwell’s office initiated the probe not long after King won her judgeship in May 2013 in a surprise runoff victory.

To run for office, candidates must sign a sworn statement that attests to their address and that they are a registered voter in the parish. King, 54, signed her election affidavit on Feb. 13, 2013, two months before the April 6 primary for the Section E seat that Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier vacated when she won a seat on the Criminal Court bench.

An official with the judicial administrator’s office at Juvenile Court said he didn’t know whether King took the bench Monday. Valerie Willard, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court, said she was not aware that the court has taken any action regarding King since last week’s indictment.

The indictment marked a sharp departure from normal practice in cases where the residency of candidates for public office has been called into question. Such controversies often are handled through civil court challenges to a candidate’s eligibility or, in rare cases, action by the judiciary. The criminal charges against King are the first in recent memory against a public officeholder over residency questions.

Court rules allow the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana to recommended immediate suspensions of judges, barring them from taking the bench. The commission can recommend such suspensions in limited situations, including if a judge “has been indicted or charged with a serious crime under state or federal law” or if the judge “may pose a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or the administration of justice.”

The commission’s actions do not become public until they reach the state Supreme Court.

The court issued suspensions, for instance, to a pair of Jefferson Parish judges, Ronald Bodenheimer and Alan Green, during the federal “Wrinkled Robe” investigation of judicial corruption more than a decade ago.

“It’s not a routinely used procedure,” Willard said. “When it’s deemed necessary, it’s an option for them to take.”

King’s claim of living in New Orleans drew fire during the campaign from candidate Cynthia Samuel, who lost in the primary but continued even afterward to accuse both King and second-place finisher Doug Hammel of residency violations.

Samuel said King claimed a homestead exemption in Slidell. Only owners who actually occupy a house may claim a homestead exemption.

Caldwell’s office renewed that allegation last week, saying King has claimed the exemption there since 2007.

During the race, King acknowledged owning a home in Slidell and didn’t dispute having a homestead exemption at the property. But she said it 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.

Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office records show that the Stillwater Drive house is owned by Grace King and Jimmie Bobb.

The maximum penalty for filing a false public record is five years behind bars.

Hunter set King’s next court date for April 25.