The Kentucky Supreme Court undermines public confidence in our court system by exempting its operations from the laws that apply to the rest of government.
The courts are a big business, with an annual budget of almost $75 million. The Supreme Court oversees this large enterprise through its administrative arm, the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The AOC is not subject to the open records and meetings laws that the rest of government must follow; nor is it obligated to follow the same policies that guide other government business to purchase goods or services or to sell surplus equipment.
This is not illegal but it is bad for the courts and, as a result, all of us. Our system of government rests on public faith in the integrity of the court system, the belief that everyone will be treated fairly.
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That faith suffers when scandals arise like the most recent one involving the AOC’s employee-only auction of surplus equipment that provided some tremendous bargains for insiders.
The Attorney General’s office is now investigating these sales and the state auditor’s office, at the invitation of the AOC, is reviewing the agency’s financial operations.
This week, the stakes rose when Scott Brown, a suspended manager implicated in the surplus sales, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the AOC, saying he was targeted for raising questions about the agency’s dealings.
Brown’s lawsuit makes some additional troubling allegations, including:
▪ Without any competitive bidding, millions were paid to an HVAC contractor for repairs that were often unauthorized.
▪ A deal in which the AOC leased, made improvements on and bought furniture for an office in a building owned by family of the justice who would be using the office. Initially the justice himself owned the property but when concerns arose he sold it to a company owned by his son.
▪ A regular monthly payment of $1,200 a month to another justice that was coded as travel reimbursement but was actually used to rent a condominium in Frankfort.
The AOC gets credit for inviting in the auditor. But the only hope for truly setting this agency — and public faith in the courts — to rights is opening its records to the public and subjecting its financial dealings to the same safeguards that apply elsewhere in government.