For Immediate Release - May 23, 2011

Auditor Bump Finds District Courts Fail to Assess $1.2 Million in Probation Fees

BOSTON, MA (May 23, 2011) – State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump today released a statewide report which found that one in four Massachusetts District and Boston Municipal Courts disregarded state law by exempting some offenders from paying an increase in probation fees.  The report’s findings, which were based on a self-reporting survey, showed that nearly 26% of all 70 courts did not assess $1.2 million in fees during fiscal year 2010.

Beginning in July 1, 2009, the Legislature doubled certain monthly probation fees and authorized the courts to retain the revenue to offset shortfalls in appropriations. Routine court audits, including one Auditor Bump also released today on Natick District Court, revealed that many courts chose not to impose the increase on existing probationers or those who had pre-paid the total fee. The statewide report confirmed that at least 18 courts were not assessing appropriate probation fees.

“These courts made a decision not to follow the law,” said Auditor Bump. “Not only did they forego an extra source of non-taxpayer revenue, the arbitrary collection of probation fees resulted in an inequitable application of the fee.”

The $1.2 million in unassessed fees was based on the number of active probation cases when the new law went into effect in July 2009. At the time, there were 39,407 administrative probation cases which would have brought in $6.6 million in additional assessments. The statewide report found that 52 courts properly charged the higher rate on existing cases potentially bringing in $5.4 million.

In addition to foregoing $31,581 in increased probation fees, the Natick District Court audit also highlighted its lack of a critical money management tool that has been a weakness at numerous other court locations. Auditor Bump is recommending that the court’s administrative offices continue to develop and implement a statewide accounts receivable system that gives courts more control in tracking fee payments and outstanding balances as well as identifying unauthorized adjustments and protection against theft.

Auditor Bump also said Natick District Court needs to improve its process for addressing forfeited or abandoned bail money. The NDC didn’t always order bails forfeited when a defendant defaulted on a court hearing or notify everyone who was owed returned bail money.