► Columbus Dispatch – 06/06/01 - Auditor asked to check how visiting Judges are paid Print E-mail

Columbus Dispatch – 06/06/01 - Auditor asked to check how visiting Judges are paid

Jon Craig – Dispatch Statehouse Reporter
The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday asked state Auditor Jim Petro's office for an independent review of the system used to pay visiting judges.
The request follows a citizen watchdog's allegations last month that nine retired common pleas judges overbilled counties for daily stipends, meals and lodging. Last Wednesday, a Franklin County judge dismissed more than 50 felony theft charges against the judges pending further investigation by the county prosecutor's office.
In a letter to Petro, Steven C. Hollon, the high court's administrative director, asked for a review of the policies and procedures used by the court to examine payments to visiting judges since July 1, 2000, when the process was computerized.
Hollon said the court is requesting 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."
Jay Wuebbold, a spokesman for Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, said $8,773 has been returned or collected from appointed judges who double-billed or were mistakenly overpaid. An additional $2,447 in possible overpayments is being reviewed, he said, and the court plans to re-examine all of its paper records back to July 1, 1997.
"The are doing a hand check of last year," Wuebbold said of a comparison of papers records and computer records.
David Palmer of Powell, the self-appointed judicial watchdog who was the first to allege double-billing, wonders why it has taken the court and the auditor's office more than three years to respond to his original complaints.
An attorney representing one of the accused judges was pleased about the auditor's review.
"I think it's the best idea I've heard in years," said Michael L. Close, a former common please and appellate judge who defended Judge Stephen Yarbrough of Sylvania. Two dozen theft-in-office charges against Yarbrough were dismissed last week.
Comparing the amount of money returned with the $3.4 million total paid annually to assigned judges, Close said: "That's really not a bad batting average….There's no question mistakes were made on these reports."
Hollon asked Petro's office to examine the computer program developed to detect errors in payments. The court also wants a review of guidelines used for assigning judges. The rules currently are being revised.
The revamped computer program and guidelines will be put in place after the auditor's review and comments, Hollon said.
Petro's spokeswoman, Kim Norris, said the auditor's office will assign staff members for the review as soon as possible.

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