Legislative auditor releases fourth audit report on state Supreme Court

By Kyla Asbury | Sep 10, 2018

The September audit report continues to account for the spending between 2012 and 2015.  

CHARLESTON — The Joint Committee on Government and Finance of the West Virginia Office of the Legislative Auditor published a new audit that expands on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals' $29 million spend down.

The audit report focuses on three issues: the spend-down; the $5.4 million the court spent on renovations between 2012 and 2016; and how senior status judges between 2009 and 2017 exceeded the statutory compensation cap 20 times.

The audit, released Sept. 7, is the fourth examination by the office looking into issues with the state's highest court.

Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred released a report in June concerning the spending of a $29 million surplus from 2012 and 2015.

Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred  

"In that report, the Legislative Auditor expressed concern with the court’s accumulation of appropriated general revenue funds, with particular regard to the fact that in just five fiscal years from 2007 to 2012 this surplus fund balance grew from $1.4 million to $29 million," the audit report states. "Of equal concern was the fact that this $29 million surplus was subsequently depleted to a balance of $333,514 over the following four years. In this prior report, the Legislative Auditor attempted to account for the spend-down by highlighting spending categories that saw significant increases over prior years."

The September audit report continues to account for the spending between 2012 and 2015.

The report notes that many of the renovations could be contributed to the reduction of the $29 million surplus.

The report also discusses the payments to senior status judges.

"In some instances, these payments were in excess of statutory limits for Consolidated Public Retirement Board (CPRB) annuity recipients," the audit report states. "The court’s process of paying senior status judges as independent contractors appears to be an attempt to exceed those statutory limits."

The report noted the majority of all re-appropriated funds were spent in payroll and unclassified/current expenses. Approximately $4.6 million of the surplus was spent on salary increases in 2012 and $1.7 million went toward renovations. Fiscal Year 2012 ended with a balance of just over $22 million.

The following year, a total of $7.4 million was spent on salary increases, contractual services, computer services and equipment, drug courts and renovations, bringing the ending balance for Fiscal Year 2013 to $15 million.

Fiscal Year 2014 had the largest amount of total expenditures, which totaled more than $13 million. This year, the Supreme Court returned $4 million to the general revenue fund, spent $1.9 million on salary increases, $1.7 million on computer services and equipment, nearly $1 million on travel, $1 million on legal services, $1.6 million on renovations, $375,965 on rental expenses and left $1.7 million unaccounted for. This left the 2014 fiscal year ending balance at $1.8 million.

In the following fiscal year, the court's end of the year balance was $333,514, with payroll expenses and contractual services totaling $1.49 million.

The expenses for renovating each of the justices chambers, as well as several restrooms, hallways, courtrooms, a safe room, elevators and several other areas and offices totaled $3.4 million between 2009 and 2016.

"The Legislative Auditor attempted to analyze all of the renovations undertaken by the court from 2009 to 2016," the report states. "Currently, the court has not provided the Legislative Auditor with invoice documentation related to the renovations to the Supreme Court’s law library or the administrative offices located in the capitol building’s east wing."

The report also noted that the court provided some of the invoice documentation for the renovations to the clerk’s office and the chief counsel’s office, but that they are still waiting to receive a portion of the invoices requested back in July.

Of that $3.4 million, $1.9 million was used to renovate the five justices' chambers, while the rest went to several other rooms and areas.

The insufficient invoice details $521,543 spent to renovate a number of the court’s capitol facilities. The office could not provide analysis for approximately 15 percent of the total renovation costs incurred by the court at the capitol complex.

On the senior status judge issue, the audit shows the court allowed 10 senior status judges in the judicial retirement system to exceed the statutory compensation cap 20 times for a total of $271,000.

According to the audit, the Supreme Court allowed certain senior status judges to receive more than the allotted amount for judges who were also receiving retirement benefits. The audit shows some judges became independent contractors to enable them to continue to receive full retirement benefits after they were no longer eligible for those benefits.

The court stopped converting judges to independent contractors in 2017, but still allowed some judges to exceed the statutory compensation cap.

Almost a third of senior status judges were paid in excess of the cap between 2009 and 2017, according to the audit. Seventeen percent were paid over the cap more than once.

In August, the House of Delegates passed articles of impeachment for the remaining Supreme Court justices after Justice Menis Ketchum resigned in July. Justice Robin Jean Davis resigned in August. Justice Allen Loughry II is currently suspended and facing federal charges.

Trials for the remaining justice begin next month, with Justice Beth Walker's trial beginning Oct. 1. Justice Margaret Workman's trial will begin Oct. 15. Loughry's trial will begin Nov. 12. Davis' trial was set for Oct. 29.

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