An administrative law judge Tuesday said the state should restore retirement benefits for a former longtime Gulf Coast State College softball coach who was accused of taking meal money that had been provided for players. Susan Painter, who coached at the Panama City school for 21 years, pleaded no contest to a grand-theft charge.

The plea led to the state Department of Management Services saying that Painter should lose her benefits under the Florida Retirement System. Painter filed a challenge, and Administrative Law Judge Lawrence P. Stevenson issued a 17-page recommended order Tuesday that sided with her.

The case stemmed from Painter’s handling of money during a 2014 trip to Las Vegas, where her team played in a tournament. “No showing was made that Ms. Painter acted willfully and with intent to defraud the public or the public employer of the right to receive faithful performance of her duties,” Stevenson wrote. “Ms. Painter denied actually committing the offense, testifying that her plea was entered in order to end the financial and emotional burden of defending herself.

The transcript of the proceeding in circuit court shows that the court made no findings of fact and that Ms. Painter was not required to allocute to any specific facts. The bare fact of the no contest plea does not establish Ms. Painter’s intent.

The department presented no competent evidence tending to prove Ms. Painter’s willful intent to defraud Gulf Coast of its right to receive the faithful performance of her duties.” Under administrative law, Stevenson’s recommended order will go back to the Department of Management Services for final action.