|► Toledo Blade – 05/31/01 - It’s broken – so fix it - Editorial|
Toledo Blade – 05/31/01 - It’s broken – so fix it - Editorial
The Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court [Thomas Moyer] can’t blame his colleagues for this one. The court’s system of payment for visiting judges around the state is sloppy and shoddy and invites abuse.
Since the chief justice overseas the visiting judge program in Ohio, it’s clear where the buck stops, and that the oversight is something less than 20-20.
What’s not instantly evidence is whether the discrepancies are deliberate, which seems unlikely. It appears that the Supreme Court’s own computers may be most of the problem. The pay discrepancies uncovered are small, suggestive of error or sloppiness, not callous, systematic raids on public funds.
Visiting judges have not had to turn in arrival and departure times, or the nature of the work they were doing in the office or at home on a specific case, which suggests and unacceptable carelessness in supervision.
This isn’t to say visiting judges fudge. The problem is that they could.
Visiting judges are paid on a per diem basis, no matter how long they work. It is not clear how well Supreme Court staff explained this to them or how long discrepancies had been noticed and perhaps ignored. The judges may bill the state in segments as small as a quarter-day. Most don’t, but the court has had no way to confirm their times.
No one knows the extent of the double-billing by visiting judges in Ohio. The Blade looked at four cases, Judges Stephen Yarbrough and Richard McQuade in this region and two others. A look at records of all visiting judges is thus in order.
It is prudent to use visiting judges when county courts get jammed up, which is often, or when a judge or judges in any county have conflicts of interest that bar them from hearing a case. It saves on the overhead of a full-time judge whose position may not be needed except in a crunch. On the other hand, when, as in Lucas County, there is a visiting judge a at work nearly every week, maybe an additional judgeship is needed.
It’s not the billers who designed this system. The Supreme Court did. Its new computer, if it ever works right, should end double-billing. Additional oversight on judges could be provided by having county clerks of court initial time sheets.
The current situation cropped up thanks to David Palmer of Powell, a disabled veteran and a one-man committee to expose “dishonest judges and incompetent attorneys.” He has sued judges, and filed criminal charges against some visiting judges. The Blade’s story would have been impossible without his work, although our findings didn’t totally agree with his. Some judges he cited did nothing wrong, but were alleged to have filed bad reports because of Supreme Court errors.
The high court must tread softly in its vindictiveness toward Mr. Palmer, who it is investigating for practicing law without a license, lest it find itself, in the public’s eye, the persecutor of a whistleblower who may be right.
The billing system is broken, so fix it.