The Baltimore City Circuit Court clerk’s office was on the receiving end of a harsh report from the Office of Legislative Audits released this week.
Specific findings included:
• Failure to collect nearly $8 million in long-due criminal fees.
• Inadequate procedures and controls over the collection of land record and civil court fees — estimated at $34.3 million in fiscal year 2010. “As a result, a unit could submit receipts to the accounting office for deposit and the funds could be misappropriated without detection,” the audit found.
• Cash payments to jurors, which totaled $1.1 million in fiscal 2010, were not reconciled with independent juror attendance records to ensure the propriety of the payments. “Accordingly, cash could be misappropriated without detection,” the auditors said. They also noted, “Similar conditions … have been commented upon in our three preceding audit reports dating back to April 2002.”
• No independent verification of the disposition of criminal cases to guarantee that they were recorded properly by the clerk’s office. Auditors noted that the accurate recording of criminal case outcomes is “critical for public safety.”
The audit covered a 33-month period ending in September 2010. Half of its findings were cited in the previous review of the clerk’s office by legislative auditors, which covered a 31-month period ending in December 2007.
Frank M. Conaway, clerk of the court since 1998 and a candidate for mayor this year, referred this newspaper’s questions about the audit on Monday to his assistant chief deputy for administration, who said fees are being properly charged and collected but the office is “falling short” on verification.
Mr. Conaway has his say at length in The Daily Record today in a letter to the editor on the page opposite. But no amount of argument and blame-shifting can erase the hard facts presented by the auditors that show an office plagued with sloppy record-keeping and spotty oversight during much of Mr. Conaway’s tenure as clerk.
It is long past time for Mr. Conaway to address these issues forthrightly and resolve them. As he notes in his letter to the editor, his office is the administrative hub of “the largest and most complex circuit court in Maryland.” As such, it must operate in a manner that inspires full public faith and confidence no matter how trying the circumstances may be.
The cause of justice demands nothing less.