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Auditor faults documentation of juvenile court inventory.

Byline: Shaun Sutner

WORCESTER - The Worcester Juvenile Court failed to fully account for all its furniture and equipment when it moved into the new Main Street courthouse, and as a result, significantly understated the value of its inventory, according to a recent audit by state Auditor Suzanne M. Bump.

The Feb. 26 audit found that 323 of the 677 new items that were bought to furnish the new courtrooms and offices when the courthouse opened in 2007 lacked acquisition dates and 36 items were missing the items' cost.

Consequently, the value of the juvenile court's inventory, which was listed at $555,264 as of June 30, 2011 - the end of the one-year audit period - was understated by the cost of those 36 items, or 5.3 percent of the total value, the audit states.

"WJC staff should continue to work with (trial court administrators) to update its current inventory list with the missing data, historical cost, and acquisition dates," the audit says. "In addition, when WJC reconciles the annual physical inventory to its perpetual inventory records, it should verify that all required information is listed for its fixed assets and update all listings with missing information."

In a written response to the audit, the court's first justice, Carol A. Erskine, responded that juvenile court officials made repeated requests to another state agency, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, for the costs of items with missing information.

She also indicated that the procurement department of the Administrative Office of the Trial Court, which oversees all state courts, does not have the information, and that the probation department, which was also audited, has also attempted to get the information from DCAMM.

"All requests have gone unanswered," she wrote. "No information is available regarding such requests except through the Division of Capital Asset Management. We will continue to pursue the information and when received, the information will be recorded."

In an interview, Judge Erskine said that all the furnishings and items were already in the new courthouse when the juvenile court moved there from its old quarters in the Worcester Memorial Auditorium in nearby Lincoln Square.

"Every single item in our inventory is accounted for," she said. "In essence, it was a clerical issue."

Judge Erskine added that DCAMM has been unresponsive to the juvenile court's requests for information.

"We couldn't just pick a price out of thin air," she said.

DCAMM officials provided a prepared response from commissioner Carole Cornelison.

"Since this has been brought to our attention, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance has been working with the Executive Office of the Trial Court's Office of Court Management to provide documentation for furniture related expenses for the Worcester Division of the Juvenile Court Department," Ms. Cornelison said in the statement. "DCAMM will continue to work with the Office of Court Management to ensure that proper documentation procedures are followed."

The auditor's office rejected the first justice's arguments in its reply to her response to the audit.

Notably, the report did not make mention of DCAMM, but rather said the juvenile court should work with the AOTC "to update WJC's inventory list for the missing acquisition dates and cost of inventory items."

The auditor noted that similar problems were found in a previous audit of the period between 2004 and 2006, which showed inventory records missing dates of purchase and costs of items received.

"Our current audit found that inventory records for purchases made after our prior audit report was issued still do not contain this information," the auditor wrote.

In her response to the most recent audit, Judge Erskine also referred to her response to the previous audit, in which she argued that the court had "effectively managed its inventory" since that responsibility was transferred from the AOTC.

But in its reply to the judge, the auditor responded: "We found that this was not the case because the new purchases were not recorded completely on the court's inventory lists."

The auditor also suggested that the juvenile court should keep looking for the missing data and should refer to AOTC procedures for guidance on older inventory listings. Those guidelines state that when documentation is unavailable, courts and offices should use the approximate cost and a purchase date as of July 1, 2000.

In an email, Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the Trial Court, said that the February audit was largely positive.

In addition to the inventory issues, the audit noted that the trial court had successfully put in place an internal control and risk assessment plan the auditor had recommended in the previous audit.

"The opening of a modern, new courthouse with substantial new furniture and equipment established a common inventory acquisition date for the entire Worcester Trial Court after the prior audit," Ms. Kenney continued in the email. "Those purchases were made by (DCAMM) on behalf of the Trial Court, and we continue to work with them to obtain the data required for inventory tracking."

Christopher Thompson, a spokesman for the state auditor, said Ms. Bump plans a follow-up survey in the next few months.

Contact Shaun Sutner at Follow him on Twitter @ssutner.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 14, 2013
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