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.