City does not keep Memphis judge attendance records - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

City does not keep Memphis judge attendance records

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Judge Earnestine Hunt-Dorse Judge Earnestine Hunt-Dorse
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - It turns out no one is keeping tabs on a Memphis City judge while she travels the globe on your dime.

While Judge Earnestine Hunt-Dorse spends thousands of tax dollars on frequent trips, she's also spending hundreds of hours away from the bench, the place she is elected to serve.

Action News 5 recently asked the Memphis City attorney's office to provide attendance records for the three Memphis Judges.

"The city does not maintain such documents," the attorney's office said in an email.

There are also no records of when attorneys fill-in for the judges.

None of the judges responded to a public information request for the calendars they maintain.

Judge Dorse has been the focus of Action News 5 investigations because her travel expenses are more than twice as much as Memphis's other two city judges combined.

The three elected city judges receive annual salaries regardless of how many hours they work. The city says "no documents exist" to show the amount of hours judges are required to serve on the bench.

Judge Dorse's salary is $134,000 per a year.

Since the city of Memphis doesn't keep attendance records, The Action News 5 Investigators did some of our own calculations based on the travel expense reports.

The stated purpose of the trips, is to attend legal conferences. Judge Dorse was away from the bench for 24 work days in 2009 - nearly 5 work weeks. She was away for 32 work days in 2010. Already in 2011, she has been away for 18 work days - more than three weeks.

Based on her salary, you pay Judge Dorse $516 a day. That means over the course of about two-and-half years, you've paid her $38,152 for days she's not doing what she was elected to do.

That excludes holidays, vacation days, and sick days.

Private attorneys or county judges fill in when a city judge can't be on the bench. The city says "Judge Pro Tems receive no compensation."

Action News 5 is told private attorneys are willing to fill-in for free so they can get experience on the bench.

An attorney suggested the city contract private attorneys to work part-time instead of the elected judges. He said that would eliminate the large salaries, pensions, and benefits.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton says he is looking at all options and is open to ideas and changes.

For the city to use private attorneys instead of judges, a referendum would need to go before city voters. It would also require a change in state law.

After Mayor Wharton saw Action News 5's investigation, he put a temporary freeze on Judge Dorse's travel expense requests. His office is conducting a thorough review of the city's travel policy. It's that policy that allowed for the travel and reimbursements.

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