The California Judicial Council, which oversees the statewide judiciary, engaged in at least $30 million worth of “questionable” spending practices over a four-year period, according to a state audit released Wednesday.
At a time when court systems in California faced increasingly steep budget cuts, “the AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts) engaged in about $30 million in questionable compensation and business practices over a four-year period, and failed to adequately disclose its expenditures to stakeholders and the public,” state auditor Elaine Howle’s report concluded.
The audit accuses the AOC of repurposing taxpayer money to cover expensive executive salaries, an expansive, 66-car fleet, and retirement benefits for some former employees, according to the San Jose Mercury News. At the same time, many trial courts across the state were cutting back public hours, laying off employees, and even permanently closing their doors. The Mercury News notes that Governor Jerry Brown cut court spending by $1 billion between 2011 and 2013.
“We still have work to do,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who heads the Judicial Council, told the paper. She said the council had already adopted most of the recommendations made in the report. “This audit, while confined in scope, gives us another useful tool to make progress.”
Among the audit’s recommendations: the the AOC could save $7 million per year by hiring state employees instead of outside contractors, who often command twice the salary. The audit also concluded that the agency could save an additional $5 million by simply combining its three operations centers in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Burbank into one location.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, director of the Alliance of California Judges, called the Council’s response to the audit “a statement of complete denial” in the report.
“This is not something the judicial leadership is embracing,” Gilliard told the Mercury News. “It’s very clear the taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick.”
Wednesday’s audit of California’s judicial branch comes on the heels of another audit published last month by State Auditor Elaine Howle which detailed 10 instances of fraud, mismanagement, and theft in California government agencies.