► Cincinnati Post – 12/28/01 – Auditor: Revamp Judicial Billing Print E-mail

Cincinnati Post – Dec. 28, 2001 – Auditor: Revamp Judicial Billing

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Supreme Court should tighten its billing procedures for paying visiting judges and clarify its guidelines for those judges to be reimbursed for travel expenses, according to a report released Thursday.
The lack of detailed billing guidelines ''has resulted in costly administrative efforts to interpret, account for, and pay assigned judges accurately,'' according to the report by Auditor Jim Petro.
There is no estimate of this cost, Supreme Court administrator Steven Hollon said Thursday.
''It's time-consuming and in that sense it takes staff time, and staff time equals dollars where they could be working on other things,'' Hollon said.
The court in June asked Petro to review its policies and procedures for assigning and paying visiting judges.
The request followed allegations by David Palmer, a self-appointed judicial watchdog, that some visiting judges were intentionally overbilling counties for daily pay, meals and lodging.
The court had been trying since January 2000 to automate its system for assigning and paying visiting judges, Hollon said.
The lack of guidelines also resulted in some accounting errors in which judges were paid for more than eight hours in a single day, the report said.
The error rate was so low, 0.3 percent, that it could be attributed to random human error, the report said.
''The forms the judges have been reporting on are at least 10 years old,'' Hollon said.
''We agree wholeheartedly they need to be revised.''
The report also said the court's guidelines for travel reimbursement - including travel, meals and lodging - should be clarified.
For example, under the current guidelines a judge could travel 10 miles and receive reimbursement for a hotel, or choose to fly from Columbus to Cleveland instead of driving, the report said.
Hollon emphasized that no such abuse was uncovered.
But he said he agreed that the court should provide more sufficient guidance on travel reimbursement.

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