Mark Morris, Kansas City Star, May 4, 2005
Former Kansas City Municipal Judge Deborah A. Neal pleaded guilty to a federal mail fraud charge Tuesday, acknowledging that she improperly borrowed money from lawyers.
Neal, 54, clutched a tissue in her hand as she apologized in court.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Neal said. “I’d like to apologize to my friends, my family, the citizens of Kansas City and the state of Missouri.”
Neal resigned from the municipal bench in November after she admitted having a gambling addiction and accepting loans from lawyers in violation of state judicial regulations.
Joe Locascio, presiding judge of the Kansas City Municipal Court, expressed sadness over Neal’s plea.
“This is a very sad example of the devastation wrought by addiction and of the personal responsibility each of us must take for our actions,” Locascio said. “It’s an example of how addiction compromises your judgment.”
While Neal could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines, an estimate under the federal sentencing guidelines is 18 to 24 months.
In her plea agreement, Neal acknowledged using her official position to obtain loans from lawyers who appeared before her. Some of those loans were made in her chambers and she admitted giving some lawyers unescorted access to a secure area leading to the chambers of municipal judges.
Allegations in the criminal charge, however, painted a more damaging picture of her conduct, which she has not acknowledge and likely will become a contentious point at her sentencing.
Prosecutors contended that in the spring of 2000 Neal dismissed more than 40 traffic tickets for one lawyer, even altering computer records to make it appear to be the work of an assistant prosecutor, who was off work that day.
In another instance, prosecutors alleged that Neal solicited a loan from a lawyer who earlier had appeared in her court as a defendant in November 2002.
Although much of Neal’s work involved municipal violations such as traffic tickets, one of her cases grabbed the spotlight in November 2002. She dismissed a theft charge against civil rights attorney Michael Fletcher, who was accused of failing to pay a $40.58 cab fare.