Lawrence-Lee found not guilty

Former Beaumont Independent School District purchasing agent Naomi Lawrence-Lee

A Jefferson County jury of 12 failed to agree with the state’s allegation of third-degree theft against former Beaumont Independent School District purchasing and finance supervisor Naomi Lawrence-Lee, finding the defendant not guilty Thursday, July 28, after just a couple hours deliberating the evidence presented during three days of testimony.

The sole charge pending against Lawrence-Lee alleged that, between September 2012 and October 2013, she billed the school district – and was paid – $17,950 worth of extra duty pay that she wasn’t approved to perform.

According to Lawrence-Lee, she not only worked her 40-hour-a-week job as Assistant director of Purchasing and Finance for BISD during the timeframe in the state’s indictment for theft, she also put more than a thousand extra hours during that time.

Lawrence-Lee maintained that she worked every hour she billed and even though she didn’t have the required signatures to pay off on the work as per BISD protocol, she did have instruction by the extra duty supervisor to perform extra duty work.

At the end of the trial, Lawrence-Lee took the stand in her own defense. At times, she spoke directly to the jury.

“There had to be continual follow-up,” on the concession contract, she said in testimony directed toward the jury panel. Work on the project, she added as to why she worked on the concession contract after football season came to a close, “didn’t just immediately end after the last game. It wasn’t a final swoop and it was over.”

“There was a combination of work taking place at that time,” she further explained, stating that she was also performing tasks at the direction of the athletic director and billed for hours spent on those matters as well. “(Athletic Director) Rodney Saveat asked me to do the work. I did the work; and I billed for the work.”

“If anything,” Lawrence-Lee further alleged of her billing overtime hours, “it didn’t even account for all my time.”

Judge John Stevens instructed the jury to “make sure justice is done in this case.” When the verdict was read, a unanimous decision was made by the jurors to pronounce Lawrence-Lee not guilty.

“The evidence was clear,” prosecutor Cory Kneeland told the jurors prior to their verdict, but rumblings from the juror panel suggested that not all the evidence added up to what the prosecutor was surmising.

In evidence presented before the jury was a statement signed by Lawrence-Lee that stated she was to get approval for all extra duty pay. From the time that document was signed, Lawrence-Lee collected just shy of $1,500 in unapproved extra pay – which also made the amount just shy of the only charge pending against the defendant of theft by a public servant of more than $1,500.

The $1,500 threshold would have made a conviction a third degree felony. However, if a jury were to have been given the option to convict on the lesser amount, Lawrence-Lee would still have a state jail felony on her record. That charge was not included.

Defense attorney Todd Ward immediately asked for his client’s record to be expunged after the not-guilty verdict but was referred to the 252nd District Court to follow through with that request. Lee’s indictment was already under seal – as were much of the case’s filed court documents.

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