An attorney for a former Pine Bluff School District employee convicted of forgery and theft of property in 2009 contends in a federal court filing that the Arkansas Supreme Court was wrong when it rejected attempts to have the woman’s prison sentence reduced.
Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, who represents Lynda King, said the state court should order Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Berlin C. Jones to reduce King’s sentence to 20 years in prison. Jones had reduced the sentence to 20 years before being overruled by the state court.
In 2009, King pleaded guilty to 1,577 counts of forgery, theft of property and attempted theft of property stemming from a police investigation that covered an eight year period from 2001 to 2008.
King, who worked in the school district’s central office, was accused of creating counterfeit invoices, depositing the payments for those invoices into an account and then transferring the funds from that account to another account so she could gain access to the money.
Jones originally sentenced King to 80 years in prison — 10 years for each year in which she was charged with stealing money from the school district. King also was ordered to pay $747,047.63 restitution to the district.
In September 2009, Jones reduced the sentence twice, first to 38 years and then to 20 years. The Arkansas Supreme Court in 2010 reinstated the 80-year sentence, ruling that Jones lacked authority or jurisdiction to modify the original sentence.
The state court said that once a judgment and commitment order is entered by the trial court, the jurisdiction is transferred to the executive branch of government, in this case the Arkansas Department of Correction.
King then appealed her sentence to federal court, saying that “if not for the misconduct of the prosecutor and her attorney, the outcome of her case would have been different. The fact that material evidence was not presented at the sentencing hearing or made known to the judge violated (her) right to a fair trial.”
She also said she would not have pleaded guilty to the charges “if threats were not made to (her) husband and son.”
In the court filing this month, Rosenzweig says the state court ruling cited another case that actually produced the opposite result than the ruling in King’s case.
In that case, Green vs. State, the Supreme Court ruled that lower courts could alter a sentence, Rosenzweig says in the court filing.
He also contends that the state court should have treated King’s appeal as a “petition for relief under Rule 37” (ineffective assistance of counsel) because in that petition, she alleged that she was coerced into a guilty plea, that there was prosecutorial misconduct and that her attorney was ineffective in not telling the judge about the alleged coercion.
Rosenzweig said a coerced guilty plea has been established as a violation of a defendant’s due process rights, prosecutorial misconduct also violates due process and there are a number of ways that counsel can be ineffective, including transmitting improper coercive threats.
U.S. Magistrate David Young was initially assigned King’s petition and said in proposed findings and recommendations that the trial court found “that the claim of a coerced confession was not supported by any evidence of coercion.”
Regarding the claim of misconduct by prosecutors or her defense attorneys, Young said that claim “was without merit because the petitioner (King) failed to allege that any evidence, material or otherwise was withheld from the defense.”
Young recommended that King’s petition be dismissed, a recommendation Judge Brian Miller rejected when he held a hearing for King in 2012, and appointed Rosenzweig to represent her.
In his findings and recommendations, Young said that the sentence, while lawfully imposed and within the range allowed by law, “appears harsh.” Young said that while the petition should be dismissed, “the unusual facts may be noticed in a request for clemency.”
In 2011, the Arkansas Parole Board rejected King’s request for executive clemency.
King’s application for clemency said she “wanted to adjust what may be considered an excessive sentence.”
Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter and his office filed an objection to the clemency application, with Hunter taking exception to King’s claim that there were no victims in the case, as well as a claim that two other people were involved in the crime but were never charged.
At her sentencing hearing in 2009, King told the court she acted alone, and apologized for her actions.
King is serving her sentence at the DOC’s Wrightsville Unit. She will be eligible to apply for parole in 2022.