Watchdog: Follow the Money

Louisiana court catches $1 million accounting error

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GONZALES, La. — An accounting error discovered last summer cost the Ascension Parish Court $1.173 million over seven years. But it's been corrected and a plan put into place for the court to recover the lost funds.

The error might boil down to two financial accounts that had very similar names: Parish Court Bench Warrant and Parish Government Bench Warrant Account. The name of the second one has since been changed.

"My court fund balance was dropping, and I couldn't think of a reason why," said Ascension Parish Court Judge Marilyn Lambert.

Lambert tells The Advocate at the heart of the funds in question is a $100 bench warrant fine that people pay when they miss their court date and must reschedule.

Sixty dollars of each of those fines collected go to the judicial expense fund of Parish Court.

But, at some point in 2006, the $60 collected from each fine began to go, instead, to the judicial expense fund of the 23rd Judicial District Court.

The 23rd Judicial District Court serves the three parishes of Ascension, Assumption and St. James, and handles felonies, family, juvenile and civil matters.

The solution for Parish Court to recoup the $1.173 million, which represents about $14,000 per month over the seven years the error went undetected, is that the court will stop a monthly payment of about $7,500 it had been making to the 23rd Judicial District Court to help cover the cost of a variety of items, including a portion of the pay of a receptionist who works for both courts.

"It was the most painless way to do it," Lambert said.

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