Audit: it’s a word many fear, if not dread.

Fiscal Affairs Internal Audit Manager Kevin Costello and his team are working hard to change that perception at the Trial Court, one audit at a time.

On any given day, courthouses across the state complete thousands of tasks, such as completing forms and issuing receipts and disbursements. And improved results show they take it seriously.

The Trial Court’s Fiscal Department conducts internal audits to help ensure that these tens of thousands of daily transactions are handled correctly and in compliance with policies and procedures.

There’s a lot at stake, even in the seemingly most minor transaction: namely, to maintain the public’s trust and the reputation of the Trial Court, “concepts that are difficult to quantify, but are extremely important for the Trial Court to uphold,” says Mr. Costello.

Fiscal reports data quarterly. Over the past four fiscal years, the number of “high” level risk findings per quarter has decreased overall, from 37% to 11% in calendar years 2013 to 2016. Meanwhile, the number of “low” and “medium” risk level of findings has increased – indicating that the team has been catching potential issues sooner.

A courthouse with higher risk findings is audited more frequently. Numerical values assigned for each low, medium, or high risk factor, create an overall relative ranking, as well as a starting point for recommending improvements.

chart of audit risk level findings

“Data collected since fiscal year 2013 tell us that the courts have heightened their proactive attention to on compliance-related issues,” says Court Administrator Harry Spence. “The appropriate controls are now in place, and we can see that court leaders are following audit recommendations consistently.”

Auditors visit each court on a rotating schedule. By the end of fiscal year 2016, every court in the Commonwealth had been visited as part of the audit cycle and for the first time, there were no significant risk findings associated with deposit verifications.

“The risk level assessment process is one tool of many that has contributed to a decrease in the number of findings cited in Internal Audit reports, as well as a decrease in the severity of findings,” says Trial Court Chief Financial Officer William Marchant.

The audit process. Audits are typically conducted in three-year cycles. Auditors enter their work online, onsite, enabling real time tracking of any audit or work plan in progress. The 3-4 week audit process is the same for every court, regardless of size. Each audit includes entrance and exit conferences, so local court leaders are aware of deficiencies and recommendations before receiving the team’s final report. A follow up survey lets auditees anonymously rate their experience.

Fiscal Affairs’ five auditors bring a combination of technical, accounting, and personal skills to create a “collaborative partnership with the people with whom we work,” says Mr. Costello. He describes the auditors as “objective, independent, impartial problem solvers” who examine and observe department functions, and suggest areas for improvement. The team also recommends ways to best implement efficiencies according to protocols.

All numbers, all the time. To see the Office of Court Management’s quarterly metrics, go to:  http://trialcourtweb/stats/ocm-metrics.pdf (accessible from Trial Court computers only)

Fiscal Systems’ Internal Audit Manual is available on the Trial Court Web intranet (available on Trial Court computers only) at http://trialcourtweb.jud.state.ma.us/admin/fiscal/audit/control/toc.html. The manual includes detailed reference cards on how to comply with various rules, such as handling the receipt of funds. The manual also offers instructions and links to MassCourt forms, many of which are available as fillable PDFs.