Wednesday, April 26, 2017
State audit report finds disorganized records, missing money in Ferguson Municipal Court
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway has released an audit of the Ferguson Municipal Court in St. Louis County. The audit found a court in disarray with disorganized case files, including some housed in an unsecured storage garage. This caused water and mold damage to many of the court records. Uncooperative and at times combative court and city personnel caused multiple delays that prevented audit staff from gaining access to the files necessary to complete their review. The audit also found $26,000 in illegal fees charged to citizens.
"Considering the lack of cooperation my staff experienced in their official roles as representatives of my office, I can only imagine how average citizens are treated when they are trying to get information about their cases or resolution on serious issues," Auditor Galloway said.
The audit found court records stored in several locations within the city, including a storage garage, the joint police and court building, and city hall. Documents were housed in areas that were not secure and there was no process in place to track the location of the records. Many of the records included personal information that should be protected, such as social security numbers, birthdays, and driver license numbers.
Records storage issues caused multiple problems during the course of the audit, as city and court personnel claimed the files could not be accessed or that documents were too damaged by mold and water to read. During this time no effort was made to move the files to a different location in order to prevent further damage. After months of negotiations, the State Auditor's Office was forced to take the unprecedented step of hiring a mold remediation company to recover and preserve available records in order to complete the audit. Some of the requested files were never recovered, presumably because they were lost or misplaced. This made it difficult to account for all fines, fees and costs submitted to the court.
"My forensic audit team was able to piece together partial records and receipts to indicate that at least $1400 in cash was missing, but the careless way these records were kept may prevent us from ever knowing the total amount," Auditor Galloway said.
Physical storage concerns were compounded by an equally disorganized electronic case management system. The computer system did not include necessary safeguards to prevent inappropriate adjustments or to ensure only authorized staff could access court records.
The audit also identified $26,000 in illegal fees paid by citizens over the course of a year, including a $15 letter fee and a $50 warrant recall fee. The court also charged a $75 non-prosecution fee against anyone who made an initial report, but then did not go forward with charges.
The Ferguson Municipal Court received an overall performance rating of poor, the lowest rating available. Due to the low rating, the State Auditor's Office will return later this year to conduct a follow-up review. A complete copy of the report is available online here.