Audit of Clerk’s Offices is a Bad Scene

The Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts’ audits of the Charlottesville and Albemarle Circuit Courts Clerk’s Offices have found serious mistakes by both, Tasha Kates reports in the Daily Progress.

The audit of Debra Shipp’s office, in Albemarle (PDF) concludes that she “does not perform the required financial duties associated with her office,” specifically finding that she failed to pass along to the state $201k in fines and court costs, and is holding $255k that should be passed along to the state’s unclaimed property registry, among other significant failings. Out of a corpus of 48 cases that were analyzed for the audit, 25 (52%) had mistakes. Perhaps most alarming is this finding:

The Clerk again did not reconcile the operations bank account and resolve reconciling items for the entire audit period. In combination with two prior audits, the Clerk has not in effect reconciled the bank account since April 2008, a total of 32 months. It is critical the Clerk reconciles this account and makes necessary corrections to the accounting system monthly to ensure the bank statement, checkbook and accounting system agree.

Things aren’t quite as bad in Paul Garrett’s office, in the city, but that’s not saying much. The audit of his office (PDF) found that Garrett “does not properly enter fines and costs in the court’s automated accounting system,” as is required by state law. Of the corpus of 21 cases that were analyzed for the audit, 11 (52%) had mistakes.

Each report contains a letter of response from each clerk, explaining the cause of these problems and what their proposed solutions are. (Shipp notes in her letter, not incidentally, that her 21-year-old son died in a car accident in January, which has presumably caused the sorts of life-altering disruptions that one would expect.)

Wondering whether these sorts of problems are standard, or if this is unusual, I checked out the reports for Greene, Nelson, Fluvanna, Orange, Buckingham, and Augusta. All of them were flawless or quite nearly so.

The position of Clerk of Court is elected, for reasons that I’ve never quite understood. Shipp, a Democrat, was elected to an eight-year term in 2008. Garrett, also a Democrat, is running for reelection this year, and is being challenged for the nomination by two other Democrats, Pat Melampy and Llezelle Dugger.

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