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Supreme Court use of cars is focus of legislative audit again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Legislative Auditor has taken another look at the spending habits of the state Supreme Court.

Legislative Auditor staff, last month, looked at the use of state vehicles by Justices Allen Loughry and Menis Ketchum. The report concluded each justice might have used state vehicles for personal gain.

This month’s report looked at the use of state vehicles by the other justices and administrators. The Legislative Auditor questioned some habits but did not conclude there was abuse of the system.

The West Virginia Supreme Court provides five justices exclusive access to three Buicks — a 2007 Lucerne, a 2009 Lucerne and a 2012 Lacrosse.

This audit concluded:

Justice Robin Davis has seven uses of a court vehicle where a destination was provided by no business purpose was provided.

Former Administrative Director Steve Canterbury had six instances where a court vehicle was reserved but no purpose or destination was provided. Also, Canterbury had 20 instances of rental car use that appear to be for personal use, and he was improperly reimbursed $911 in relation to those instances.

After the Legislative Auditor contacted Canterbury, he wrote a check to cover the amount to the State of West Virginia.

The Legislative Auditor’s report also notes that Canterbury would fly to out-of-state court business and rent a car.

The report stated, “For many of the instances, Mr. Canterbury drove a significant number of miles in these rental cars that are in excess of the round-trip mileage to and from the airport and hotel where he stayed.”

For instance, a trip to Denver/Vail, Colorado, resulted in driving the rental car for 1,922 miles — 1,678 miles more than the round-trip mileage from the airport to the hotel.

Mitch Carmichael

Some lawmakers questioned whether additional rules should be in place guiding how rental cars are used by state employees.

“When you’re talking $1,700 in one instance, there’s got to be a better way,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael commented during this afternoon’s hearing.

The total cost for Canterbury for the rental cars on trips related to state business was $11,076.31.

Roman Prezioso

“Is there any way to recoup that money?” asked Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso.

The report questioned whether rental cars are necessary for many state trips.

“While not all instances noted have excess mileage over the round-trip distance to the airport and the hotel, the Legislative Auditor questions the need for these rental cars in lieu of using some less expensive means of transportation such as a taxi, shuttle, or ride share service,” the report states.

The report found no particular issues with Former Justice Brent Benjamin, Justice Beth Walker, current Chief Justice Margaret Workman or current Administrative Director Gary Johnson.

The audit did find that Benjamin had significantly more travel expenses reimbursed to him than other judges — about $123,457 from 2010 to 2016. But his records were all meticulous.

Chief Justice Workman, speaking before the Post Audits Committee on Sunday afternoon, said the court has taken several steps to tighten up its record keeping and administration relating to state vehicle use.

The audit got into a couple of other issues, as well.

In 2016 and 2017, the drug courts under the Supreme Court bought 529 gift cards totaling about $105,000 with the state purchasing card, without permission from the state Auditor’s Office to do so.

The gift cards were supposed to be incentives for participants. The act was meant to increase flexibility but it also decreased transparency for how the cards were being used.

“The Supreme Court of Appeals did not request this approval from the State Auditor’s Office and, therefore, was in violation of those Purchasing Card policies.

Chief Justice Margaret Workman addresses lawmakers over an audit of Supreme Court spending.

Workman said the court is trying to devise a better system of accountability on that matter, too.

And, as a final matter, the Legislative Auditor concluded that the Supreme Court did not provide information regarding Justice Ketchum’s use of a court vehicle for commuting during the IRS audit of the court’s 2015 federal employment tax returns.

“I think there was an error made, but it was not a knowing error,” Workman said before the Post Audits Committee.

The Legislative Auditor is looking into additional matters related to the recent IRS audit and plans to report on them during June legislative interim meetings.

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