The state court system is leasing an office for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Wright of Whitesburg that belongs to his sons at a cost three times higher than a competing bid. The family relationship was disclosed in documents regarding the lease, but there was no documentation to justify the higher cost.
That finding – from an audit requested by Chief Justice John Minton – helps make state Auditor Mike Harmon’s case that the Administrative Office of the Courts should beef up its policies on ethics, purchasing and credit card use, and strive to hold high-ranking elected officials to the same rules as other employees.
Minton requested the audit in 2017 after the Herald-Leader’s Daniel Desrochers exposed sales of surplus public property that were open only to AOC employees, a cozy arrangement that smacked of cronyism, excluded the public from bidding on the property and failed to produce the best return to taxpayers.
Besides seeking the audit, Minton and the AOC have taken other steps to shore up accountability at the agency that serves as the court system’s administrative arm and oversees a $320 million annual budget. Some of the audit’s recommendations had already been put in place.
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But, as the audit released Thursday reveals, there’s still more to do for Minton and the Supreme Court who oversee the AOC.
Certainly, they should, as the auditor recommended, “address conflicts of interest during procurement to avoid the appearance of favoritism or providing financial benefits to related parties. Disclosing relationships and removing those individuals with conflicts of interest from the process engenders public trust and a more ethical culture among employees.”
In other words, if taxpayers are going to pay a premium to enrich a justice’s family, there ought to be a darn good explanation.