THE HONORABLE Ward L. Clarkson and Shiawassee County Friend of the Court administrator Kristy Bray can be seen speaking to the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, June 14. Judge Matt Stewart was also present, though is not pictured.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
Shiawassee County Friend of the Court administrator Kristy Bray, 35th Circuit Court Judge Matt Stewart, and 66th District Court Judge Ward L. Clarkson have reported an accounting problem to the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners that has persisted in the Friend of the Court office since 2003. The oversight could cost the county between $40,000 and $90,000, according to Judge Clarkson.
Clarkson, primarily, addressed the board during its Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday, June 14, explaining how the problem came to exist, and outlining the strategy to rectify the situation.
“In 2003 it was decided that filing fees from paternity cases should be collected by the Friend of the Court, and that was done from that point on,” Judge Clarkson began. “The filing fees then needed to be transferred to the state. They’re very particular about that.”
However, the office’s computer program did not contain a designated place for the funds to be stored, so the filing fees were placed into the “Bonds” account and transferred to the circuit court as revenue; for the better part of 14 years.
Now that the county has discovered the problem and reported the matter to the state, the State Court Administrative Office has determined that the county must pay back the filing fees from the past seven years. The Friend of the Court has already begun combing through files, which Judge Stewart called “a monumental task.”
Judge Clarkson expressed the need to hire a part time employee for the Friend of the Court office to help review the past seven years of files. He hopes to complete the review and re-pay the state by the end of 2017.
“I don’t know whose fault it is, and I don’t care at this point,” Judge Clarkson said. “I am convinced it was not malicious, but somehow between that change and the way they were collecting the fees a problem arose. We are going to get to the bottom of this. We did not create this problem, but we are going to fix it.”
Commissioner Mark Coscarelli questioned why the problem was overlooked at the state level for all these years, and he also asked if the state would be open to a negotiated settlement to avoid reviewing the potentially thousands of individual cases in question. Judge Clarkson acknowledged that he is interested in pursuing a negotiated settlement with the state down the road, but that he also thinks that the county first needs to determine how much it owes.