Public to pay for BR City Court judge’s 5-star trip to Morocco

BR City Court Judge Yvette Alexander Show caption
BR City Court Judge Yvette Alexander

Baton Rouge City Court Judge Yvette Alexander, who already has billed taxpayers for trips to Hawaii, Jamaica and Italy, is on her way to Morocco, where she will stay in five-star hotels while attending a judicial conference.

The cost of the 5,000-mile excursion is at least $2,898 and taxpayers will foot the bill.

The trip is billed as the National Bar Association’s mid-winter meeting. Alexander is the Continuing Legal Education chairwoman for the conference with respect to judicial sessions, and she plans to attend every session available, according to Lon Norris, clerk of court administrator, who relayed some answers to questions on Alexander’s behalf.

Alexander refused to be interviewed, deferring comment to the National Bar Association.

The international conference runs from Jan. 18 to Jan. 25, however Alexander is leaving Jan. 16 for an overnight trip to New York City before she flies out to Morocco on Saturday evening.

Alexander’s reimbursement request was already approved by the city-parish. The travel reimbursement papers indicate that additional funds could be requested “at the reconciling of this trip.”

Of those funds already requested, $1,999 goes toward a travel package offered by the bar association to cover lodging and the plane ticket from New York City to Morocco. The plane ticket from Baton Rouge to New York City was another $260, and registration for the event was $199.

The city-parish also pays a $44 per diem for meals, so for 10 days of travel, she will receive $440.

The conference is split between two cities in Morocco: Rabat and Marrakech.

For the first half of the trip, the delegation will stay at the five-star Sofitel Rabat Jardin Des Roses in the heart of the capital city.

The second half of the conference will take place at the five-star Four Seasons Resort, according to forms submitted to the city-parish for reimbursement.

The conference also will give participants an opportunity to “meet and greet key Moroccan officials, including the mayors of Rabat and Marrakech, and the Chief Justice of the Moroccan Supreme Court.”

There also will be city tours, dinners and reception events including a “Jazz and Casino Night.” Golf also is offered in both cities, according to the travel documents.

The course agenda was not included in the travel documents, and neither Judge Alexander nor the National Bar Association responded to requests for the agenda.

Alexander has been a judge since 1995 and has a well-documented history of taking lavish conference trips, paid for with tax dollars.

In a 2012 review of city judge travel, Alexander emerged as the leader in tax dollars used, number of trips taken, distance traveled and days away from the bench.

From 2007 to 2012, Alexander took 37 trips, and used a total of $52,704 in public funds.

Her travels included two trips to Hawaii, two trips to Jamaica, and visits to Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, the Virgin Islands and the West Indies.

In 2002, Alexander took another eyebrow-raising trip to Italy costing taxpayers $1,900, drawing the attention of the Metro Council.

She spent an average of 69 days away from the bench every year for conferences, sick and vacation leave.

When judges take leave, a cost to pay an ad hoc, or substitute, judge also is incurred.

From 2007 to 2012, City Court spent between $56,624 and $87,033 for substitute judges.

In 2013, after the Advocate story ran, the Supreme Court passed a new rule that says ad hoc judges could only be used 37 days per year, per judge.

Last year, Alexander used ad hoc judges for 38 days, receiving special permission for exceeding the cap.

To accommodate her time out of the country this month, Alexander requested and received permission from the Louisiana Supreme Court to use an ad hoc judge to oversee her case load on Jan. 27.

She canceled court and reassigned 36 cases from Jan. 21 through Jan. 23.

Norris said Alexander intended to avoid scheduling any proceedings for those dates to prevent cases from needing to be reassigned, however, “This information failed to reach all pertinent staff members.”

Many of Alexander’s trips have been for National Bar Association functions.

The National Bar Association calls itself the “oldest and largest association of African-American lawyers and judges,” founded in 1925.

Christine Bennett, a spokeswoman for the National Bar Association, said in an email that the association was invited by the Chief Judge of the Court of Cassation in the wake of judicial reforms taking place in the Kingdom of Morocco.

“Accordingly, our meeting will focus on judicial reform,” Bennett said. “Our judicial and political system, while not perfect, is highly regarded in Morocco and around the world. It is our hope that our judicial system will serve as a model for Morocco.”

She said more than 160 lawyers and judges are attending the conference.

In 2012, the Metro Council approved and then quickly rescinded an ordinance that would have limited city-parish employees and board members from traveling outside the 48 contiguous states without a waiver from the council.

The measure was initially a response to what was seen as excessive travel by a Metro Airport commissioner’s designee who was taking several trips. After the restriction passed, the council reversed course after receiving several complaints from employees about already budgeted travel.

Several council members declined comment for this story, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on the judge’s actions.