Lost in the headlines during this past week’s action of the 2019 Session of Kentucky’s General Assembly was the filing of a bill that, if it becomes law, will increase the transparency and bring more oversight to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Last year, after receiving a request from Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton, my office conducted a historic special examination of AOC. It marked the first time the agency that oversees Kentucky’s judicial branch had received an outside audit or examination since it was formed in 1976. That request came on the heels of media reports on the sale of cars and other items in private, AOC employee-only auctions.
Our examination, which you can read here (or go to auditor.ky.gov), detailed 20 findings, including a lack of documentation on why office space was rented for a Supreme Court Justice from a company owned by his sons when it cost almost three times the amount of another proposal. Other issues included $2 million of inventory errors, lack of documentation for credit card expenses by the Chief Justice and AOC Director, taxable benefits like take-home vehicles were not properly reported, and there was overall lack of policies and oversight.
At the time we released our examination, one of the recommendations I made was that the AOC receive an annual audit by either my office or an outside CPA firm. That recommendation is the essence of House Bill 380, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes of Louisville who is a former director of AOC. HB 380 is co-sponsored by the chairman of the House Standing Committee on Judiciary and the majority party members of the budget subcommittee on the judiciary.
When we recommended an annual audit of AOC, they argued the Supreme Court should make that determination so as to not violate the separation of powers. While I respect that we have separate branches of government, it is equally important that we maintain and strengthen the checks and balances between the branches. As former Chief Justice Palmore once wrote, the legislature has “a legitimate and necessary right” to know how funds it has appropriated have been spent.
It is imperative that we make Kentucky’s government more transparent and accountable to the people we serve. House Bill 380 is a step in the right direction.
Mike Harmon is Auditor of Public Accounts for the Commonwealth of Kentuckky.
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