Claiming the clerk of courts has failed to follow an agreement related to bank deposits that are to be made each day as recommended by the county finance director, the Washington County president judge clamped down, issuing a five-page order Tuesday that sets policies for the row office.
Failure to comply could result in contempt proceedings, President Judge Katherine B. Emery noted.
In July, an audit of the clerk of courts by county Controller Michael Namie revealed a little more than $96,716 was missing over an 18-month period. Frank Scandale, a Democrat, was elected clerk of courts in 2015, and he is running this year for a second four-year term against Republican Brenda Davis.
“The audit revealed these missing funds and abysmal internal controls over the banking procedures,” according to a statement released Tuesday by the Washington County Court Administrator’s office. The matter is being investigated by state police.
As the audit wrapped up, the clerk of courts agreed to implement specific controls related to the daily deposits as recommended by Joshua Hatfield, Washington County finance director.
The court received information Sept. 5 from the Finance Department concerning additional money handling and deposit issues in the clerk of courts office.
“It has become clear in recent weeks that the clerk of courts has failed to follow this agreement,” according to the statement from the court administrator’s office.
“All of the monies collected by the clerk of courts relate to the criminal justice system. In many instances, the monies represent a monetary punishment as part of a criminal sentence or restitution” to a crime victim.
It went on to say, “The court has an inherent duty to protect those funds – for the victims, the defendants and the taxpayers and citizens.”
Emery signed the administrative order Tuesday to address the clerk of courts’ collection and deposit of funds accepted by the row office and the processing of case filings.
She directed Namie, Hatfield and Court Administrator Patrick Grimm to jointly develop policies and practices, noting that strict guidelines will be imposed on handling financial transactions and verifying collections.
The clerk of courts and staff members “shall comply with the provisions of this order and are required to assist” Namie, Grimm and Hatfield, the judge ordered. “Failure to comply may result in contempt proceedings or other appropriate relief.”
Scandale, when asked about the order Tuesday, said, “I don’t think there needs to be any comment. I think the order will enhance our best practices for the offices,” which includes both filing and collections.
Because the controller’s audit identified 24 missing deposits from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, Grimm is to specify cases in which payments were accepted and credited by the clerk of courts, but not deposited.
The court will oversee a process to seek payment from defendants who were credited for monetary payments by the clerk of courts, but never actually had their bank accounts charged.
Both court administration and the clerk of courts offices will be contacting defendants “by phone and/or mail,” Grimm wrote in response to an email, to seek to resolve the situation.
“I will note that the clerk of courts has not, to my knowledge, reached out to the court at any point during the time frame covered by the audit or afterward to take action on this issue.”
The judge also ordered that outstanding filing, scanning, docketing and distribution of orders, disposition and documents must be processed by the end of September.
It also sets deadlines for processing bench warrants, Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition and DUI cases, state sentencing orders and dispositions, juvenile cases, dependency orders and dispositions, motions court and indirect criminal contempt orders, summary appeals, cases being forwarded to appellate courts, bail orders, probation office documents and corrections to the statistical docket.