Legislative audit tries to figure out state Supreme Court surplus in rainy day fund

By Kyla Asbury | Jul 5, 2018

CHARLESTON — A legislative audit was performed on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in an attempt to learn why the court had a surplus of nearly $29 million in 2012 and spent it down to approximately $333,000 by 2016.

Aaron Allred, legislative manager of the West Virginia Legislature, said several events initiated the audit.

"Its origin traces back to an investigation conducted by the legislative auditor, in conjunction with the Joint Committee on Government Organization, into how state-owned vehicles were being used by the various entities of state government," Allred said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "It appears this inquiry in the summer of 2016 led to discussions among the Justices of the Supreme Court about their own vehicle use policy."

Allred said according to records of the Supreme Court, this policy was vigorously debated and one or more of the justices questioned the practices of others.

"After the court's administrative director, Steve Canterbury, was terminated in 2017, he revealed details about several practices in the administration of the courts that he questioned," Allred said. "These included matters beyond just the vehicle use issue."

Allred said Canterbury presented this information to the media and the legislative auditor.

"From there these parties independently investigated the claims reported by Mr. Canterbury," Allred said. "The Legislative Auditor's Office has the statutory mission to investigate, analyze and report on the misapplication of state funds or erroneous, extravagant or unlawful expenditures by any spending unit of the state, including the Supreme Court."

While the state Supreme Court did not have an official comment regarding the audit, Chief Justice Margaret Workman recently spoke before legislators, stating that she would not dispute the figures and that she had raised issues previously with the court as to why the balance was so low in 2015.

Workman said she agreed with the legislative auditor's conclusion that spending in the court should be aimed at good outcomes for the public.

Allred said that although the reports could shed a negative light in highlighting issues uncovered concerning the Supreme Court, the recommendations made are ultimately meant to improve the functions of the court and improve the state government.

"It is the goal of the Legislative Auditor's Office to create meaningful reports and useful recommendations that aid the legislature and the entities audited in making those needed improvements," Allred said. "As a result, the court has increased awareness of the need for transparency and oversight concerning its operations, even at the highest level of its organization."

Allred said through this increased transparency and oversight, the court has an opportunity to regain the trust of the people and manage its administration according to the requirements of state and federal law.

"The Supreme Court does not just consist of the justices and the Administrative Office of the Court here at the Capitol; it operates in all 55 counties through magistrate, family, circuit and drug courts, which all serve the citizens of West Virginia and have done so with great success beyond those issues which have been reported through our audits," Allred said.

Allred said the takeaway from the audit is that no individual within the state government is exempt from the responsibility to use the resources of the government properly.

"Though each agency or branch of government may have a specific function, there are certain principles and procedures of good government that apply to all," Allred said. "These principles and procedures are established to prevent the abuse and waste of state resources."

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