Audit: 'Pervasive lack of accountability' in Kentucky courts

Legal Issues

In 2016, Kentucky's Administrative Office of the Courts was looking for office space for newly-elected Supreme Court Justice Sam Wright. They got two offers: One would cost more than $59,000 a year and require extensive renovations. The other space was larger, had 15 parking spaces and would cost $21,000 a year.

State officials chose the first option, even though it cost three times as much. They did not document why they chose it, and they did not visit the site before signing the lease, as state policy requires. The selection memo, which is the sole document relied on to make the decision, also left out one key detail: The company that owned the more expensive property was owned by the justice's two sons.

That's just one finding of many in a scathing audit released Thursday of the administrative arm of Kentucky's judicial system. The audit, believed to be the first ever independent examination of judicial system's finances and policies, found a "pervasive lack of accountability" and resistance to transparency. The Supreme Court sets administrative policy for the judicial branch, but they meet in secret and won't allow the public to monitor their actions. When Auditor Mike Harmon recommended they conduct administrative business in public, they refused.

"Their dismissive attitude towards key recommendations regarding ethics and accountability quite frankly saddens me," Harmon said in a news release announcing the audit's findings. "No matter what branch of government, we owe it to the taxpayers of Kentucky to strive toward openness and transparency."

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