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'SLUSH FUND' PROBE POSSIBLE KUEHL MAY ASK FOR INQUIRY INTO JUDGES' PROCEEDS.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl said Monday that she might ask for an inquiry into a ``slush fund'' used by Los Angeles County Superior Court judges to pay for dinner cruises, horse races and country club golf tournaments.

Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, said an audit she requested - showing that some of the proceeds used by the Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Association for entertainment should instead have been deposited to the court's account - points to the need for stricter safeguards over such expenditures.

``In the long run, we would perhaps want to make an inquiry with the Fair Political Practices Commission as to whether there should be a reporting requirement when judges have outside income,'' Kuehl said.

``I think it's just horrendous that this money went into this slush fund and then was used for theater tickets, yacht cruises and all this stuff. But in terms of whether it was illegal, it's hard to tell. They don't even have the same duty as we do to report outside income.''

The Daily News disclosed abuses in the Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Association fund a year ago. Judges use the fund, established in 1960, for a variety of purposes, including harbor dinner cruises, retirement dinners and to pay for 14K gold cuff links as retirement gifts and flowers for deceased judges.

In August, Kuehl called for a state audit into whether the county's 409 Superior Court judges operated the special account - partly supported by child custody seminars and ``walk-through'' programs for new attorneys - as a slush fund for their own benefit.

The state auditor said she didn't have the authority to audit a private judges fund. But the Daily News obtained an independent audit of the fund ordered by Presiding Judge James Basque that revealed that some of the money in the fund should have been deposited into the court's general account.

In December, the association voted to turn over the nearly $60,000 left in the fund to the court and end the practice of accepting contributions from lawyers and others to the fund.

Kuehl said the fact the association voted to end the practice tells her it was understood what they were doing was improper.

``With judges, it's the appearance of impropriety that is important,'' Kuehl said. ``You could say that if you were required to take the training and give them money and it went into a slush fund for yacht trips, there certainly would be the possibility of impropriety, and I'm sure that's why they stopped it.''

Taxpayer advocate and Beverly Hills attorney Richard I. Fine said the judges should have never taken money from lawyers.

Fine suggested that the court deduct $1,000 a year from the extra $20,000 to $30,000 a year judges get on top of the $136,224 salary as part of their professional development allowance and ``flex earnings'' cafeteria plan.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Apr 2, 2002
Words:483
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