La. Supreme Court improperly paid $51K to judge compensation fund, audit report says

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A legislative audit report released last month said that the Louisiana Supreme Court wasn’t complying with the law when it used money meant for general operations to pay for administrative expenses for the Judges’ Supplemental Compensation Fund.

In the report released on Sept. 20, Louisiana Legislative Auditor Michael Waguespack said the court’s judicial administrator incurred $51,000 of expenses that were paid out of the general fund instead of the JSCF fund during the 2023 fiscal year.

Louisiana law requires that the JSCF pay for its own administrative expenses, according to the auditor’s report.

“The judicial administrator did not ensure that costs incurred for administering the JSCF were reimbursed from the JSCF,” the report stated. “This occurred because the JSCF Board believes that it is acceptable to fund the administrative costs with general fund appropriations rather than from the JSCF.”

Clerks are required by law to collect the nonrefundable fees from civil filings in each city, parish, juvenile, family, district, appellate and supreme court in Louisiana on a monthly basis and make them payable to the state treasurer, which deposits the money into the JSCF fund. The Supreme Court’s judicial administrator is responsible for distributing the JSCF funds, the audit report says.

Money in the JSCF fund “shall be used solely and exclusively for salary supplements to judges and commissioners, for related costs of state or municipal retirement funds, and for necessary and associated administrative expense,” according to the report.

The report states that once provisions are made for administrative expenses, the JSCF Board “shall authorize” the court’s judicial administrator to distribute the fund’s proceeds for monthly “supplemental compensation to the judges and commissioners, and for the associated retirement contributions.”

But the report stated that the JSCF Board didn’t make sure its administrative expenses were covered before authorizing the judicial administrator “to distribute the remaining proceeds of the JSCF in accordance with state law.”

The auditor recommended that the judicial administrator and/or the JSCF Board seek clarification from the legislature on the intent of the law regarding payment of the JSCF’s administrative expenses.

Until that happens, the report stated that the JSCF Board should reimburse the judicial administrator and should make sure money is available to pay its administrative expenses before retirement contributions and monthly supplemental compensation to judges and commissioners are made.

The report also found that instead of being remitted to the state treasure, court clerks were sending fees from the civil filings and sending them directly to the Supreme Court’s judicial administrator, which was against the law.

Even though the state treasurer notified the JSCF Board that the judicial administrator agreed to receive the civil filing fees from each court directly in 1988, and despite a memorandum of understanding that formalized this practice 30 years later in 2018, the report said the legislature still hadn’t passed a law to make it legal.

“The judicial administrator and/or the JSCF Board should seek legislative changes to this statute to align it with the current practice of the clerks of court remitting the civil fees to the judicial administrator instead of to the state treasurer as currently required,” the report said.

A response from management indicated “non-concurrence with the finding” that the court wasn’t complying with the law, although the judicial administrator said it would provide information to lawmakers who want to change the procedures described in the statute, according to the report.

Additionally, the report found weaknesses in procedures controlling the cash used to reimburse judges for travel expenses.

The report said court personnel weren’t following general administrative rules, resulting $1,828 being overpaid to two judges for lodging reimbursements.

One judge was erroneously reimbursed more than the maximum daily rate for attending the Louisiana Judicial College/Louisiana State Bar Association Joint Summer School and Annual meeting, while a second judge was mistakenly reimbursed for an additional day of lodging expense.

The court’s internal controls didn’t detect the overpayments, which occurred because of errors made by personnel when the reimbursement requests were processed, the audit report said.

“The court recovered the overpayments after we notified them of the errors,” the report stated.

To read the full report, visit lla.state.la.us.