'Gavel travel' costing taxpayers thousands - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

'Gavel travel' costing taxpayers thousands

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MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - The Bahamas, Las Vegas, and a beachside Florida Resort – a Memphis city court judge is at it again traveling on your dime to exotic places.

An Action News Five investigation grounded judge travel back in 2011, but a travel freeze has been lifted and bags are being packed again.

"They acknowledge on the front end that they've reviewed the policy," said Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little.

Little authorizes travel expenses for the city's three elected court judges.

"Really since the spring of [2011] we've been under closer scrutiny for all out of state travel," he said.

The spring of 2011 is when the Action News Five Investigators uncovered the city court's travel costs were over budget, and prompted Mayor A C Wharton to freeze judges' travel for the rest of the fiscal year.

Back then Administrative Judge Ernestine Dorse was doing most of the traveling. Expense reports revealed 24 out-of-town events over a 29 month period, until it all came to a screeching halt.

"She indicated that she would be significantly limiting her out of state travel during that time," said Little.

Since then, the freeze has been lifted and Judge Dorse is at it again.

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, Dorse took five trips in 11 months – starting in April.

A trip to Tampa for a National Bar Association conference cost $1,003.26.

There months later, Judge Dorse hit Vegas for a convention. Her five night stay at Caesar's Palace plus flight and expenses cost taxpayers more than $1,850.51.

The following November, taxpayers paid almost $400 for her trip to Nashville to attend a judge's meeting.

Days later her conference was in Miami Beach with four nights at the pricey ocean side Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel. Plus expenses took a $2,100 bite out of the court's travel budget.

The following February, a trip to the Bahamas cost $1,271.50.

Grand total for Judge Dorse's 5 trips is $6,680.61 which is more than twice the amount of combined travel expenses for the other two city judges.

"My observation has been that on her requests she has certainly asked for less in the way of items to be covered," said Little.

He has been tougher on what expenses are covered when the trip is over.

While in Vegas, Judge Dorse paid out of pocket for a rental car, and $200 dollar golf tournament entry fee.

"If it doesn't pass the propriety test, Maui in December, I'm going to ask some pretty hard questions about it," said Little.

Judge Ernestine Dorse declined to be interviewed for this story, but has previously said her out of town trips help lure conferences to Memphis.

Her travel expenses originally became newsworthy because she spent more money on trips than any of her fellow judges.

Copyright 2013 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.

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