The state auditor recently raised concerns about the Judicial Council of California’s procurement practices.
State Auditor Elaine Howle’s report, released Dec. 19, said two Judicial Council supervisors with authorization to approve procurements with costs up to $500,000 approved several procurements in excess of that figure.
Those procurements included purchases of legal services, software products, and fees paid to a national organization related to state courts.
“Without obtaining the appropriate approvals, the Judicial Council bypassed one of the controls intended to reduce the risk of fraud and ensure the Judicial Council only procures appropriate goods and services at the best value,” the audit said. “When the Judicial Council procures goods or services without the appropriate approvals, it increases the risk that the terms of those procurements may not be optimal or that the procurements may be inappropriate.”
The auditor’s office reviewed 40 procurements the Judicial Council made from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2019. Of those transactions, 10 were procurements for goods or services with costs greater than $500,000.
“For five of these 10 higher‐cost procurements, the Judicial Council staff obtained signatures from one of two supervisors who were not authorized to approve procurements costing more than $500,000,” the audit said.
The largest procurement that did not receive the proper sign-offs was a $2.7 million contract for legal representation in juvenile dependency proceedings.
Under state law, the Judicial Council must notify the state auditor in writing within 10 business days each time it executes a contract with a cost greater than $1 million.
The auditor said the Judicial Council failed to notify her office of the procurement for legal representation in juvenile dependency proceedings.
The auditor also noted that her office’s 2017 report on the Judicial Council raised similar concerns about the council’s procurement practices.
The title of the report said the council “Needs to Follow Competitive Bidding Processes More Consistently and Establish Clear Guidance for Invoice Processing.”
The 2019 audit included the following recommendation: “To better limit the risk of inappropriate procurements and to ensure it procures goods and services at the best value, the Judicial Council should immediately revise its procurement process to include a final verification step to confirm that managers with appropriate signature authority approve its procurements.”
In its formal response to the audit, the Judicial Council acknowledged that the wrong individuals executed the five procurements in question and said its management team “has counseled all supervisors regarding their approval authorities.” The management team will also consider adopting additional controls recommended by the auditor.
Additionally, the Judicial Council wrote that senior management within the council’s procurement office reviewed the five transactions in question and “concluded each would have been approved if properly routed.”
Lyle Moran is a freelance writer in San Diego who handles both journalism and content writing projects. He previously reported for the Los Angeles Daily Journal, San Diego Daily Transcript, Associated Press, and Lowell Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com and found on Twitter @lylemoran.