Last fall, the New York State Comptroller conducted an audit of the Town of Sweden Justice Court, and issued a damning report on the financial practices of the court.
No wonder the Village of Brockport established its own village court to adjudicate the tickets written by the Brockport Police and the Code Enforcement Departments.
The State auditors only looked at the way the court handled financial matters. They did not look into the other problems that have surfaced with the Sweden Justice Court.
For example, the auditors did not look into the incident when Justice Carl Coapman was reported to be visibly intoxicated during an arraignment in Sweden Town Court on November 22, 2011 and that his speech was slurred during the court proceedings. Coapman resigned after the report became public.
The auditors also did not look into incident when a cardboard box filled with almost unprocessed 200 parking tickets, which had been issued by the Brockport Police Department, was stolen from the floor under the desk of the Deputy Town Clerk.
The New York State Comptroller’s audit report was issued in February 2015 under the unwieldy title, Town of Sweden Justice Court Report of Examination, Period Covered: January 1, 2013 – September 4, 2014.
The Comptroller’s audit is available online at:
The 28 page report makes for interesting reading, especially since there is a town election this November and the members of the Town Council are the people ultimately responsible for the proper operation of the town court.
All the text in italics below is taken directly from the auditors’ report.
The audit was conducted by the Office of the New York State Comptroller, Division of Local Government & School Accountability: The purpose of the audit was “to help local government officials manage government resources efficiently and effectively and, by so doing, provide accountability for tax dollars spent to support government operations.”
The objective of the audit was to review the processes and procedures for the Court’s financial operations for the period January 1, 2013 through September 4, 2014.
The Comptroller’s audit identified a number of serious problems with the operation of the Sweden Justice Court.
The Justices do not provide adequate oversight of Court operations to ensure the accurate and complete collection, deposit, recording and reporting of Court moneys in a timely manner.
The Justices have not adequately segregated the duties of the clerks and do not regularly review accounting records, bank statements, or monthly reconciliations and accountability analyses.
Although the Court issues computerized receipts, the receipt numbers, dates and amounts can be altered or deleted in the computer system and the Justices do not review system activity as a compensating control.
Further, 71 receipts2 were not deposited within 72 hours of receipt and various receipts or transactions were deleted from the system without a valid documented reason.
Finally, the Justices have not developed a policy or procedures to enforce the collection of unpaid fines and fees. As a result, 34 unpaid tickets were not submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) scofflaw program and five tickets were incorrectly reported as disposed of to the DMV.
(Keep in mind that this does not include the more than 200 unpaid parking tickets that the town lost.)
Due to internal control weaknesses, it is impossible for the Justices to hold any clerks responsible for any errors, deficiencies or fraudulent or abusive activities that may occur, and the Court is not collecting all potential revenue.
Justices are personally accountable for all activities that occur in their Court. The Justices must ensure that an effective system of internal controls is in place to provide reasonable assurance that cash and other resources are properly processed and recorded in a timely manner.
The Justices are not providing sufficient oversight of Court operations.
By law, each court clerk is only supposed to work on the cases of one judge. But that is not the way things worked in the Town of Sweden Justice Court.
Segregation of Duties — The Justices are responsible for segregating duties by ensuring that each clerk only processes transactions for her one assigned Justice.
The Justices have not adequately segregated the duties of their clerks.
Despite this lack of segregation of duties, the Justices did not directly receive or review bank statements or canceled check images, and do not regularly review accounting records, bank reconciliations and monthly accountability analyses.
Due to these oversight weaknesses, we tested various Court records and found that the Justices cannot be assured that all money was properly recorded, deposited and reported.
Accountability — Justices are responsible and accountable for all moneys received by their Courts.
- Justice Johnson — The auditors found that Justice Johnson’s account properly reconciled, from his first month in office.
- Justice Coapman — When Justice Coapman resigned, he had an unreconciled balance of $4,091 that was transferred to Justice Depferd.
- Justice Depferd — Had an additional unreconciled balance of $7,291 in his account from his own original cases, for a total of $10,532 as unidentified moneys.
- Justice Connors — The auditors found that Justice Connors had an unreconciled balance in his bank account of $100. After the clerks corrected various errors, the account properly reconciled to a zero balance as of October 2013.
Did Justice Bobby Connors lie to the auditors?
One of the most interesting things found by the auditors from the New York State Comptroller’s Office was that it seems Justice Bobby Connors lied to the auditors.
Justice Connors told us that in the past, his account had shortages and he made up the difference from his personal funds. However, he could not provide us with any details or documentation of any such instances. We also found no evidence of additional deposits to cover any cash shortages during our review. The former clerk also told us that the Justice neither put money into the account nor gave her money to put into the account.
That certainly seems to indicate that Bobby Connors either lied to the auditors, or stretched the truth beyond plausibility for some unknown reason.
Court Clerk paid for shortfall with her own credit card
During our testing, we found one shortage in November 2012 of $185 that was paid in installments by the former Court clerk, usually with her personal credit card. On our inquiry, the former clerk said she thought this could have been a mistake by any of the clerks and did not know or think that she was responsible or should have to pay it, but she made the payments because she did not want to lose her job over it.
You have to wonder, have the members of the Town Council had the common courtesy to refund this money to the court clerk, or to apologize to her for creating a work environment in which she felt that she had to make up any shortfalls from her personal bank account?
According to the audit, the Town Board has “the responsibility to initiate corrective action”. The question is what, if any, corrective action has the Sweden Town Board initiated?
Connors, the town’s third judge¸ is still on the bench even though New York State law only requires the town court to have two justices, and even though the number of cases in the town court has dropped dramatically since the formation of the Brockport village Court. The members of the town council have never asked Connors to step down, even though the NYS Comptroller’s auditors seemed to have caught him in a lie.