SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio– A suburban judge just got back to the bench after a trip to a conference in France, and when she walked back into court she found the FOX 8 I-Team waiting with questions about her travels with public money.
South Euclid Municipal Court Judge Gayle Williams-Byers had been away for a week, and the I-Team started investigating.
She initially tried to have us call her attorney, then she answered questions.
The judge said, “It is not correct that I am using the public’s money to merely go on junkets.”
City records show years of travel all over the US including to Hawaii. Plus, a trip to Panama. We also saw a trip set for Italy, though the judge says she didn’t end up going.
And now, France.
Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in bills for travel.
The judge argues she goes to conferences to learn and to teach. And sometimes she gets paid to teach, and an organization covers her expenses. She also says she often used her own money to cover costs.
As for the latest trip, she said, “Not one dime came from the taxpayers of South Euclid.”
She acknowledged though, money did come from the court’s special project fund which is public money.
The judge also acknowledged her magistrate went with her.
Some people we met outside South Euclid City Hall suggested keep learning, but learn locally.
One man said, “I don’t think that’s right.” Another said, “We’re a small community. Why do you have to go all over the world and see what’s going on?”
The judge is defending herself to the I-Team, but at the same time town leaders say she’s also suing the City of South Euclid for more money in her budget. The city is taking the fight to taxpayers posting the judge’s travel records on the city website, and sending letters to residents, too.
South Euclid Councilman Joe Frank issued a statement saying, in part, “…residents can review information about how their tax dollars are spent and decide for themselves if they think all of these trips are necessary and serve a community benefit.”
For now, the judge is back, but she could pack up again.
She said, “Good judges go where the education is. I don’t get to pick or decide where the conferences are.” She added, “I believe that it is a good use of public dollars that they receive the best judges.”