Entertainer Paula Poundstone, an adoptive and foster parent who has been a fixture on the stand-up comedy scene for 20 years, pleaded no contest Wednesday to one count of felony child abuse and a misdemeanor charge of inflicting injury upon a child.
As part of a plea agreement with Los Angeles County prosecutors, Poundstone is expected to be placed on probation for five years but will not go to jail, attorneys said.
Poundstone, 41, changed her earlier plea of not guilty before Superior Court Judge Bernard Kamins at the Santa Monica courthouse. In exchange, prosecutors dropped three counts of committing lewd acts against a child and added the misdemeanor count.
Had Poundstone been convicted of the original charges, she could have received 13 years and four months in state prison, authorities said.
Poundstone was arrested in June for alleged lewd acts and child abuse involving her three adoptive and two foster children.
In court documents, prosecutors alleged that she committed a lewd act on a girl under 14, and that she endangered the four other children--two girls and two boys. The crimes were committed between May 19 and June 6, they alleged.
Defense lawyer Steven Cron acknowledged that Poundstone had a drinking problem and admitted Wednesday that she drove once with the children while under the influence of alcohol. But Cron maintained that Poundstone never molested any of the children.
In a statement released Wednesday after the hearing, Poundstone said that the lewd conduct charges were not true but that she did take an unnecessary risk with the children.
“My drinking helped to create a dangerous situation for the children,” she wrote. “For this, I am very sorry. All I can say is that I am working hard in rehab to overcome my alcohol problem. For my kids’ sake, as well as my own, I am determined to succeed.”
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services began investigating Poundstone after receiving a report of an incident May 19.
Attorneys declined to provide many details, saying they were under a court order prohibiting them from talking about the case.
Poundstone said she could not comment on the case until after her sentencing, scheduled for Oct. 10.
The comedian’s adoptive and foster children, ages 2 to 12, were placed in protective custody after the arrest. Poundstone will not be allowed to serve as a foster parent anymore, but she is working on regaining custody of her three adoptive children, Cron said.
Prosecutors said the terms of probation will require Poundstone, who is being treated in Malibu, to complete six months at a rehabilitation center. She will also have to stay clean and sober, complete community service and receive psychological counseling, prosecutors said.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors were satisfied that the plea agreement was a proper way to resolve the case. Prosecutors determined that although there had been inappropriate touching that caused mental or physical injury to one of the girls, it did not constitute a lewd act, Gibbons said.
Cron said he began talking to prosecutors about a plea agreement a few weeks ago.
“It’s not a day to rejoice, but there is a certain amount of relief that she is not going to have to go through an extended trial,” he said. “She did not want to put her family through this.”
Cron said his client was disappointed that she will no longer be allowed to be a foster parent.
Jim Brogan, a comic and friend of Poundstone’s, said he was relieved that she was receiving help for her drinking problem. He praised Poundstone as a generous and selfless person.
“She is one of the best people that I know,” Brogan said. “It doesn’t seem like she would be capable of hurting a child.”
Poundstone became popular in the 1980s, working in Boston and San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles. Her fame grew in the 1990s when she became a regular on national TV talk shows, including “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”