|Akron Beacon Journal – June 26, 2001 – Ohio chief justice asks auditor to investigate double billing|
Akron Beacon Journal – June 26, 2001 – Ohio chief justice asks auditor to investigate double billing
By Dennis J. Willard and Doug Oplinger
COLUMBUS: Responding to criticism that visiting judges have been paid twice for a single day's work, Chief Justice Thomas Moyer has asked the state auditor to step in.
Moyer stopped short of asking for a full-blown audit, but yesterday the chief justice did ask state Auditor Jim Petro to review how visiting judges are paid and reimbursed for their expenses.
As chief justice, Moyer is responsible for assigning and paying visiting judges throughout Ohio.
His system has been under attack by David Palmer, a Delaware County resident and longtime critic of the judicial system.
Palmer, executive director for the Committee to Expose Dishonest and Incompetent Attorneys and Judges, turned up the heat recently when he filed 59 charges of theft in office against nine visiting judges, including two Medina retirees, Judith Cross and Phillip Baird.
Last week, Palmer agreed to having the charges dismissed in exchange for access to Supreme Court records and a promise from the Franklin County prosecutor's office to pursue charges against possible criminal wrongdoing.
Steven Hollon, Moyer's court administrative director, sent a letter to Petro yesterday asking for the independent review.
Hollon said the chief justice wants the review because "it is important to retain the public's trust and confidence in this important program for the management of the court dockets statewide."
Moyer's request is limited in nature. He wants Petro to examine payments made to judges only since July 1, 2000, when the court began using an automated payment process.
Petro is also being asked to look at the court's computer system, which is designed to detect errors in payments, and to review new guidelines for assigning judges.
For three years, Palmer has asked Moyer and Petro to look into what he believes is a pattern of double dipping by a number of visiting judges.
Palmer said the entire system should be changed and he dismissed Moyer's limited request as "a sham."
"They're trying to look like they're doing something when they really aren't," Palmer said. "I think the auditor has a duty to root out every instance of double billing. These people don't have the right to keep the money. Most of this was going on well before July."
Palmer said he has only scratched the surface of the system, but has documented more than $50,000 in double billings for wages and expense reimbursements.
Palmer said visiting judges should be banned from working at home or on weekends and holidays, and they should be required to sign in with the local bailiff to ensure they are working the hours they are paid.
Petro's office has said it is not illegal for a judge to bill the state two day's pay in a single day as long as the work was done. But Kim Norris, Petro's spokeswoman, said yesterday the auditor does not know if it is illegal for a visiting judge to bill the state without having done the work.
"To the best of our ability, we can only determine at this point we do not believe it is a proper expenditure," Norris said.
The auditor's actions on the matter could determine whether legal charges are eventually brought against some of the visiting judges.
When Palmer initially complained to the court and the state auditor, Moyer said that visiting judges were not double billing the state.
But since then, the Supreme Court has identified at least $10,000 in double billings from visiting judges and has been repaid $7,060 as of last week.
Judge Cross repaid the Supreme Court $402 after the Akron Beacon Journal brought the double billing to her attention last month.
Last week, the Supreme Court sent a letter to Baird asking to be repaid roughly $2,400 for double billing in 2000.