Letter: Judiciary lacks accountability

Two recent Advocate editorials highlight serious deficiencies in Louisiana’s judiciary, which contribute to the labeling of our state as a “judicial hellhole.”

The first issue involves the secret dealings of a committee formed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to reassess the number of judgeships across the state.

Why isn’t this committee’s taxpayer-funded work available to Louisiana residents? As noted in the recent editorial, “Make panel’s work public,” numerous independent studies have already demonstrated that some areas of the state have too many judges — costing Louisiana taxpayers millions at a time when resources are desperately needed for local projects such as schools, hospitals and road improvements. Nevertheless, the state’s high court has kept its further examination of the issue behind closed doors, perhaps because it is looking for some way to arrive at a different conclusion.

These covert operations are not just an affront to taxpayers; to outsiders, they suggest that the state’s high court considers itself to be beyond reproach, perhaps even above the law. Such a shroud of secrecy violates the spirit, if not the letter, of Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law, and it undermines public trust in the entire judiciary.

Another issue of questionable judicial behavior was highlighted in the Jan. 19 editorial, “A five-star city judge.” As I write this letter, Baton Rouge City Court Judge Yvette Alexander is nearly 5,000 miles away at a five-star hotel in Morocco, eating, drinking, sleeping and perhaps even playing golf on the taxpayer’s dime. She makes absolutely no apologies for the excessive expense of her travels, and in fact has taken numerous lavish trips in recent years, costing more than $52,000 since 2007.

This example of egregious spending of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable at any time, but it is especially offensive in the context of the current economic climate when resources are scarce and everyone seems to be struggling.

Taken together, these seemingly different issues reflect similar problems facing the Louisiana judiciary: an apparent lack of accountability and general disregard for taxpayer resources.

Certainly, it would be unfair to paint all of our judges with this brush. In fact, I’m sure the vast majority of our judges are also concerned about these kinds of abuses. Let’s hope those who are directly involved in these issues will find a way to right these wrongs and take action that will help to build up the public’s trust in the judiciary — not further erode it.

MELISSA LANDRY

executive director, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch

Baton Rouge