Sunday, July 16, 2006

More Pain For Payne

Looks like state Child Services Director Judge James Payne needs to reach for his personal checkbook to write out a check to Marion Co. reimbursing it for the $2,317 the Marion Co. juvenile center he formerly ran spent on a going away party for him. That and other shoddy record-keeping uncovered by a recent audit is likely to create even more pain for Payne. Today's front-page feature by the Star's Tim Evans and Richard Walton reports:

Shoddy record-keeping, the issuing of blank checks for purchases and the apparent misuse of $2,317 for a party are among the findings of an audit of the Marion County Juvenile Court and Detention Center under former Judge James W. Payne.

The draft report, obtained by The Indianapolis Star, found controls and documentation so lacking at the troubled center that auditors said it was impossible to verify many expenditures. The report also raised questions about the use of county-owned vehicles by court officials, but included few specifics.

The audit was requested by the Marion Superior Court executive committee after then-Court Administrator Mark Renner found irregularities following Payne's departure last year to head the state's Department of Child Services.

"There was a sense of surprise and, in some quarters, outrage that those controls, those protocols, did not exist," said Renner, who has since left county government.

Covering a period prior to January 2005, the preliminary report was completed in June after the State Board of Accounts examined the books of the court and detention center, which has an annual budget of about $9 million. The final version is expected to be made public within a month.

Payne declined comment for this story, but in a letter to the newspaper submitted last week he wrote that policies were implemented during his tenure "to make the operation and record-keeping system the best that was known at the time."

But auditors have found insufficient controls over receipts, disbursements, and the recording and accounting of financial transactions. There was also a lack of supporting documentation to ensure the validity and accountability for some funds paid out.

Earlier Star reports uncovered widespread sexual abuse of juvenile detainees by juvenile center employees and the failure of the center to perform criminal background checks on employees, leading to nearly one-fourth of its staff members with supervisory roles with detainees having criminal records.

Despite the damning revelations from the series of Star reports over the past couple of months, Payne is anything but contrite. In a guest opinion column in today's Star, he launches into a laudatory defense of his two-decade record running the juvenile detention center. Of the Star reports he writes:

The recent information about the Marion County Juvenile Court, while distressing, has clouded what I believe have been, over the past years, the many accomplishments of the men and women who have devoted their adult lives and in many cases whole careers to serving children in our community who come into the juvenile system.

Payne then boasts of his accomplishments, including the "construction of a state-of-the-art facility", "receiving many awards", "formalization of the hiring process . . . with a criminal check done", "policies and procedures were implemented to make the operation and record-keeping system the best". Any short-comings, according to Payne, should be blamed on funding requests he was denied for the center on repeated occasions. As far as he is concerned, the only problems uncovered to date are "allegations that some children may have been hurt by a few individuals in the system." Otherwise, he is "proud" of what he describes as his "noble efforts."

Judge Payne's assessment of his records fails to address why judges in his system failed to provide fair trials to defendants and why 40% of juveniles went through the system without assistance of counsel. His successor, Judge Marilyn Moores flatly concluded that he and his court "failed to practice law." The state-of-the-art facility he describes was found by a recent report to be "dirty", "chaotic" and a place filled with suicide risk.

Judge Payne can try to sugarcoat his record at the Marion Co. juvenile detention center all he wants, but eventually the truth will win out, and that truth holds no good news for Judge Payne. Gov. Daniels needs to seriously reconsider whether Payne still holds any credibility to carry out the daunting task he has at cleaning up the state's child welfare services.


Anonymous said...

That Daniels picked Payne in the first place was a stunning shock in many circles, not the least of which was local Republican lawyers (at least the ones in county court practice who knew anything about Payne). It seems like Daniels circle wasn't familiar with Payne's reputation from anyone who actually was directly familiar with it-- as opposed to those who bought into his "rewards" and self-proclaimed maverick image.

I think, frankly, everyone kept their mouths shut because they were so thrilled at the prospect he'd be off the bench they were afraid if they raised concerns he wouldn't end up going to the State (ala Jim Bradford...) General criminal and family law lawyers in private practice for the most part wouldn't touch juvenile court for one reason: Jim Payne. The place was a horror for all parties in every facet and everyone knew it was 99% attributable to him. I think the rest of the judges were happy to just keep him out there and close their eyes, because then they didn't have to deal with him downtown.

It still stuns me though, that no one in the Daniels transition team figured out that one way or another Payne was going to end up being a huge albatross for them, either by revelation of the mess he'd made at juvenile after Moores had to go in to attempt to clean it up (she herself probably could have told them that...) or by virtue of something outrageous he will (or would) ultimately do at the state.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Anonymous-thanks for sharing that. As a Republican, I was very disappointed at the selections Daniels made throughout his administration upon taking office. Many were completely unqualified for their posts, while others, like you have pointed out with Payne, had glaring problems with their past records. Having said that, I think he's accomplished more for the state than Gov. Bayh's, O'Bannon and Kernan combined.